Thursday, February 17, 2022
By Laura Kivlighan

Bryan Porter (20JD) loved writing from an early age. He was a quiet kid and often turned to writing to express his thoughts. From the time he was in the first grade he remembers using writing to say things he didn’t want to say aloud to others. Bryan had a wild imagination and often inserted people from his real life into his poems and stories.

Growing up watching Divorce Court and Judge Mathis, Bryan knew early on he wanted to be a judge, knowing he would have to become a lawyer first. At that age he never realized how important writing was in the practice of law.

“I do think people underestimate the writing piece of law school. They think what they see on TV is reality but being a good writer is really what makes you an effective advocate,” Bryan shared.

He later attended the University of Iowa for his undergraduate education, majoring in Psychology and earning a Certificate in Leadership. In his higher level-psychology courses, he worked on more research papers and saw how powerful his writing could be. He did research on Innocence Projects and the writing he did to fight for defendants and clients solidified his career path in law.

Bryan quickly learned psychology and leadership have a lot in common. He classifies leadership as a subset of psychology, since in order to be an effective communicator, motivate others, and get things done, you have to know how people think.

The importance of good writing is seen in everything from an email subject line to an organization’s bylaws. When Bryan was president of the Black Student Union during his junior year, he worked to have the bylaws rewritten to reflect the status of the organization. They had not been updated since 1995. When talking about the project, Bryan insightfully shared, “Writing is the final line of change. It is the document people go back to.”

Writing skills are essential in many fields, yet it is often a trait overlooked when it comes to leadership. “In our society, so often people see leadership as loud and more gregarious than the written word,” said Bryan.

Bryan’s hard work and leadership paid off and he started at Iowa Law in the fall of 2017. But the work ahead was just beginning. After studying psychology for the last 4 years, he had to retrain his way of thinking once he got to law school.

“In psychology and other liberal arts programs, you can't state causation in your research. You can't say this caused this. You can only say this is associated with this. When I came to law school, I remember the torts professor I had, Bohannan, told me this isn't psychology. This is law. You have to say this caused this—there must be a direct line to everything. You can't say maybe, probably," Bryan shared.

He continued writing in law school both professionally and for fun. He worked in the Legal Clinic with Daria Fisher Page, clinical professor and director of the Community Empowerment Law Project, and others on a report for the National Juvenile Justice Network. The report, titled “The Promise of Racial Impact Statements: Findings from a Case Study of Minority Impact Statements in Iowa,” examined how Iowa’s minority impact statements affected legislation in the state. The biggest lesson he learned from the project was that it takes a lot of effort to enact change, and just passing a bill might not do it.

A passion project he started while in law school became Bryan’s first published book, a science fiction novel titled The Eye of the Storm. The story stems from his experiences as a Black law student and political events happening during that time. Similar to when he was a kid, Bryan sat down one night and just started writing, creating characters and situations that were not too far from his reality.

Currently, Bryan works for the Rock Island County State’s Attorney’s Office where his work is focused on civil matters given the circumstances of the pandemic. Late last year, Illinois passed their COIVD-19 regulations through executive order. Again, proving the power of the written word. With the legal problems that followed, Bryan worked on union negotiations between unions and the state. “I didn't know this side [of law] existed, honestly. But it's really intriguing. And I’m having a lot more fun than with criminal,” expressed Bryan. Prior to the State’s Attorney’s office, he was a first-year associate at Winstein, Kavensky & Cunningham, LLC.

His advice for future law students, “Try to have fun in what you're doing. Once you graduate from Iowa Law, you're going to be successful. So [as a student], you have to make sure your mental health is intact and that you actually enjoy learning something from the school.”