SPOKANE, Wash. — It’s the Monday of finals week, and Gonzaga School of Law student John Nelson still manages to look relaxed. In less than 2 weeks, Nelson will join Commencement keynote speaker Washington state Supreme Court Justice Debra Stephens and Faculty Speaker Professor Ann Murphy at the podium during the School of Law Commencement ceremonies. Despite a busy schedule of finals, studying for the bar exam, and preparing for his new position at K&L Gates, LLP in a patent and “anything-and-everything-IP-related” position, Nelson took a few minutes to sit down and chat about his time at Gonzaga Law.
What do you most look forward to about Commencement?
I am most looking forward to seeing the hard work we have all done come to fruition. It has been a long, expensive road, and to see something tangible come out of it will be refreshing. I’m also looking forward to having my family come to Spokane from North Pole, Alaska and Western Washington to join in the celebration. I’m also looking forward to hearing Professor Ann Murphy speak as the students’ choice for faculty speaker. I have enjoyed hearing Professor Murphy lecture over the last few years and I’m excited to hear her send-off.
Have you done anything special to prepare for your Commencement speech?
For sure. I asked many, many people for advice about what the speech should be about and what they expected of the speech. As the class respondent, I’m trying to speak about the things my class wants me to speak about in more of a representative role. I’ve also practiced portions of the speech by recitation to my wife, Kaelyn, whom I must thank for putting up with me.
The speech will focus on the past, present, and future of the graduating students. I think the best part of the speech will be the surprises I have planned.
What has been your most memorable experience last three years?
Winning regionals and then second place in the nation for moot court my 2L year is my most memorable scholastic experience. Gonzaga had never won regionals in its prior 14 years of participation in the Saul Lefkowitz Trademark Moot Court Competition, so it was unexpected to hear our names called as the winners. Then at nationals, we won second place overall and second-best brief, putting Gonzaga on the radar as a team to watch for years to come.
Outside of school, getting married to my beautiful wife, Kaelyn, during the summer of my 2L year was certainly memorable. We had many friends from Gonzaga and our undergraduate school, Whitman College, attend and we had an amazing time.
What did you enjoy most about GU Law?
My classmates. I had the great fortune of meeting and knowing some awesome people from my class who I hope to stay in contact with professionally and otherwise after school. It was nice to have folks from many different backgrounds come together to share ideas and learn together. It was nice to share ideas with others who were just as devoted to learning as I was, and to help each other grow as professionals.
Where are you headed after Commencement?
After Commencement, I’m headed to Vegas baby! With Kaelyn, the best man from our wedding, and Kaelyn’s parents. We plan to have a little fun before the 6-week bar prep course begins. After taking the bar, I will be staying in Spokane as a first year associate at K&L Gates LLP. Upon passing the Washington State Bar (fingers crossed) I will work as a patent attorney under the direction of Mike and Theresa Keyes and Whitney Baran. I’m very excited to learn the tricks of the trade about being a patent attorney from these great mentors.
Did you always know that you wanted to be a patent attorney?
Not at all. At Whitman, I was a chemistry major. I was just about to enter school to get my Ph.D. in Chemistry — I had the papers and everything — when I decided to change direction and go to Law School. In order to become a patent attorney, it is very helpful to have a degree in the hard sciences, so it has worked out well.
What advice do you have for students starting or considering law school?
If you can devote these three years of your life to law school, you will benefit for the next 30 years. I guess the bottom line is that you will be paying a lot of money and spending a lot of time to go to law school, why not be the best you can be during that time? Study as hard as you can, and then keep studying until you have the subject matter down pat. Then consult with your classmates, ask each other questions, talk about your classes, and when it comes time for finals, remember that knowing your professor is worth just as much as knowing the subject matter. Also, if you have the opportunity, try your hardest to take a class from Professor Simpson; she will change the way you look at life and teach you how to succeed in law school.
As for those considering law school, the information you learn during this experience is invaluable. Not only will you learn about the law, but you will also learn about business, politics, means of communication, and how to use the amazing power of the spoken and written word to your advantage. If you are devoted, law school is the place for you. If you are not sure what you want in life, I’d recommend interning at a law firm and making sure this is what you want to do before you start.