How to get to law school and become a lawyer

Two seasoned Bakersfield lawyers from the firm of Kuhs & Parker spoke to several CSUB students considering careers in law during a forum on Nov. 10.

Though Michael Abril and Bernard Barmann work in the same office now, their paths to law school and ultimately a career in business and real estate law couldn’t have been more distinct from one another.  Both say they love their profession, as well as their work with Kuhs & Parker, a Bakersfield firm that specializes in business and real estate law.

The program, hosted by the Academic Advising and Resource Center, was the third in a series of career workshops featuring professionals from the Bakersfield area. It was inspired by the AARC’s undeclared students, as well as its student athletes and the NCAA’s CHAMPS/Life Skills program. The career workshops also come in an effort to capitalize on the incredible knowledge, skills and diversity of professionals living and working in the Bakersfield area.

Abril, a partner and owner at Kuhs & Parker, was a first generation college student who decided to pursue a career in business law after earning his MBA, along with his J.D., at the University of Southern California. The UC Davis alumnus also told students that the career paths available in civil law, specifically in representing businesses, simply seemed more interesting to him and offered greater financial stability than a potential career as a criminal prosecutor or defender.

As Abril states on his LinkedIn profile, “I took a class at the business school to become eligible to take a computer class, and in the process picked up my MBA.”

Surely it wasn’t that simple, but the dual degrees Abril earned illustrate advice that he gave students at CSUB: diversify your skill set and find your passion; once you find your passion, make your resume stand out by having unique experiences and developing professional skills as a student.

Abril encouraged students to strongly consider CSU Bakersfield’s newly formed Global Intelligence major and others like it, because he said these courses of study would inspire students to form their own unique worldview, grounded in real world experiences as well as academics.

As an undergraduate at UC Davis, Abril tread the traditional “pre-law” major of political science, but students who choose to major in other subjects, from sociology to global intelligence, to even music and math, have a unique and valuable perspective to offer when they apply for admission to law school, he said. Whatever major a student chooses should play to their strengths and personal interests, he advised so they can apply to law school with top grades.

Barmann, a senior associate at the firm, said he decided to pursue a career in law after watching his father graduate from law school later in life. His father took a risk that paid off, Barmann said, by leaving his position as a university professor and moving his family to San Diego to pursue his dream of becoming a lawyer. His father worked full-time as a realtor while attending law school Barmann said, and studied incredibly hard to realize his goal. His mother also made sacrifices to support his father in the pursuit of his J.D., Barmann added.

His parents’ example would serve as inspiration for Barmann, who graduated cum laude from Claremont McKenna College with a degree in Economics-Accounting. What made Barmann’s undergraduate experience unique is that by the time he earned his B.A., he had already completed his first year at Columbia University School of Law.

Claremont had an agreement with Columbia that allowed it to nominate a very small number of students for special admission. These students, once accepted by the Ivy-League school, would complete their first year of law school and the last year of their undergraduate studies simultaneously by earning dual credit. Barmann impressed his faculty at Claremont and earned the nomination. He said he was proud of the fact that when he arrived in New York City to attend one of the best law schools in the world, he technically had nothing more than a diploma from Bakerfield’s West High School.

Barmann’s advice to students? Just as many different types of law careers exist, so too do different types of law schools, so investigate as early as possible. Being a corporate lawyer for a Fortune 500 company does not necessarily require graduation from an expensive ivy-league law school, though it helps, and many other types of law, including many positions in civil and criminal work don’t require top credentials, just a solid J.D. and skill as a competent professional. He said the best thing undergraduates can do is get good grades so they will have a choice of graduate schools.

Both Abril and Barmann spoke about the cost of law school, and the financial implications of the student loan debt this often requires. This financial reality will affect career choice, both agreed, and should be a significant consideration when choosing the law school that is right for each individual and every unique situation.

– Jessica Shillings, Academic Advising and Resource Center student intern