Aug. 24, 2021 - University of Houston Law Center student Ryan Cooper was unsure of his career path following his first year of law school. The veteran, who is now a 2L, said he saw his education come full circle this summer working with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I wanted to help people in a situation similar to me,” Cooper said. “The VA has done a lot for me. It’s an institution I believe in.”
The Law Center’s Public Interest Fellowship subsidizes students’ summer work for local nonprofit and government employers.
Cooper, who graduated from UH in 2019 with a focus in economics, said his transition to law school was not seamless. After maintaining a high GPA as an undergraduate and his service in the U.S. Navy as an aviation electronics technician from 2013- 2017, Cooper said he began to question if pursuing a legal education was the right path for him.
“I would put a lot of time and effort into writing, which is so much of what law school is about, and I just didn’t see a huge amount of success,” he said.
As he began planning for the summer, Cooper said he knew he wanted to do public interest work, citing his attachment to the military. Securing the Public Interest Fellowship was, “the best possible scenario” for Cooper and helped him hone his craft as an attorney.
As a result of the fellowship, Cooper said he has become a “significantly more confident writer.” Some of his responsibilities included writing motions for summary judgement, motions to dismiss, requests for discovery, case analysis memos, pre-hearing submissions, and other items.
“The crown jewel achievement from working there was the very first motion for summary judgement I submitted,” Cooper said. “I spent probably two weeks working with the attorney above me on that motion, and just before the end of the summer, the administrative judge approved it.”
“When I saw my work submitted to the judge as it was written, and then seeing the administrative judge approve it, that was just affirmation that no matter how I was doing in school, I could be successful out in the real world,” Cooper said. “That was huge for me because it’s like, ‘I can do this.’”
Cooper also had the opportunity to observe or participate in arbitrations, settlements, witness preparations and depositions.
“I was able to see the whole process go from start to finish, and that was very important for solidifying everything I learned in 1L year,” he said. “It all came together and made sense, seeing cases go from their very start to their very finish.”
Cooper said his work at the Department of Veterans Affairs was “super fulfilling,” and he will continue to work in the same office this semester.