Wheeler Family Helps Students Discover Law

Inaugural Lecture Panel Explores the Struggles, Rewards of Law School

“We’re kind of known as ‘that family that goes to law school,’” laughed Staci Wheeler, one of four members of the Wheeler family to speak during a panel discussion held in early October. The event, the first in the Wheeler Pre-Law Lecture Series, was designed to help students contemplating careers in law understand the opportunities and paths they could take to achieve their goals.

As the Wheeler family — Fran and LeAnn, who are both WSU alumni, and two of their children, Staci and Todd — discussed their pursuit of law degrees and careers, students listened intently, took notes and waited patiently for their moment to ask questions.

“One thing I want to say is that we are very common folk,” said LeAnn. She discussed her ordinary background as well as Fran’s, and insisted that any student who has vision and dedication to pursuing a career in law can succeed.

The Wheelers suggested that students do their research and find out what schools will best meet their educational needs for their goals. They warned that big-name schools will not always serve them better in the long run.

Law school has sometimes been seen as an all-purpose path to the working world, but the Wheelers warn that unless students have a clear goal of what they would like to do with their law degree, it isn’t always practical.

Staci said that the best bit of advice she has to offer students is to take advantage of local education and tailor it to their goals and desires. “Pick a school that makes sense for your goals and your area,” she said.

The panelists explained that the school does matter, just not in the way people often think. The Wheelers said if students want to work for a Utah or regional law firm, it would be better for them to attend a local or regional school because the education will reflect the cultural and social dynamics of the area. If the student wants to work for a national or international law firm, they should choose a school that will lead them into fulfilling that goal.

Fran advised students to work especially hard during the first year of law school. He emphasized the importance of getting summer internships, which could lead to additional internships with the law firm and possibly a permanent position. He warned that there would always be some uncertainty, as the job market for law is competitive, but that generally, things eventually turn out well for law students.

LeAnn quoted Todd Wheeler, saying, “Promise less and deliver more.” She expanded upon that and said that students and professionals alike should promise to do what they know they can, but should always strive for the best and greatest they can do, allowing themselves and others to be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

All four Wheelers encouraged students to develop strong study habits and discipline, and discussed the importance of paying attention to detail, networking and developing good communication skills including writing and reading effectively.

Law school is difficult, all of them agreed, but students can overcome that with a good support system. “Take a break,” Staci suggested, discussing how she coached lacrosse to take her mind off her studies. LeAnn said that during her most difficult times in law school, which she attended while raising her young family, her trick was to tell herself to just make it through one more day.

Networking is increasingly important, and the panel agreed that one of the best ways to network is to go and meet people, and put faces to names. “Be engaged in the community,” Staci said. “Talk to people, interview them and get to know them.”

Fran and LeAnn encouraged their children to find different lifestyles because law careers can be strenuous at times. Staci said,

“Mom and Dad also told us law would be the best training and the best thinking you’ll ever get, and all of us were intrigued by that.”

Most importantly, the Wheelers encouraged students to be active in their communities and get an education. “I don’t think you can ever go wrong with an education,” LeAnn said.

Fran currently works for Cooley LLP, a firm with more than 750 lawyers. He was interested in science and graduated from WSU with a degree in chemistry, an unusual choice for someone with ambitions to pursue law, but he combined his interests and worked for a patent law firm after completing a simultaneous Master of Business Administration and Juris Doctor program.

LeAnn graduated from WSU, Rutgers, where she earned her Juris Doctor degree, and George Washington, where she earned a Master of Arts degree. She clerked for a Wall Street law firm and the Colorado Supreme Court before retiring to raise her five children. She has remained active in her local and church communities, and was a founding board member for a charter school. She was also on the Colorado Governor’s Committee on Families. She always wanted to teach law and saw clerking as a way to get there. When she had children, she worked to teach them as well. “What better thing to do with an education than to teach kids?” she said.

Todd discovered his law career path through business. After several attempts at small businesses, he decided to increase his skill set. He formerly worked as in-house counsel for Fusion-io in Utah and as an associate with Silicon Valley law firm Wilson Sonsini, which helped take Tesla, LinkedIn and Palo Alto networks, as well as other companies, public. He is currently corporate counsel at Pure Storage in San Francisco.

Staci didn’t intend to pursue a traditional law path, but while attending school she fell in love with environmental policy and got an internship with the Department of Justice’s environmental division. Since receiving her law degree she has served as legislative counsel for members of Congress, been a White House speechwriter and edited George W. Bush’s book Decision Points. She is currently director of legislative programs at the Nuclear Energy Institute. “We had good training from our parents,” Staci said. “Law gives us the ability to make a difference in people’s lives.”