Recent Iowa Law graduate Jake Bergman (22JD) shares his experience managing law school during a global pandemic and his gratitude for the professor and mentors who helped him along the way. Jake is currently in Minneapolis working as a SALT Consultant at Wipfli and earning an Executive LLM in Taxation at New York University.
TLDR: Thank you for making my legal education at Iowa Law such a fantastic chapter of my life.
Recently, my time as a student at Iowa Law has concluded. It was a strange three years. I learned a lot about myself and, of course, a little about the law.
I came to Iowa Law without many expectations of becoming a lawyer but with high expectations of myself. In some areas, I fell short. In others, I massively exceeded my expectations. I had a lot of help along the way.
It all started with Iowa Law's week-long orientation, Introduction to Law and Legal Reasoning. Over the course of the week, I was reassured that I had picked the right school. Life is a fickle thing, and ultimately it is about people, the relationships you build with them, and how you treat individuals. For me, it was the people at Iowa. All of the bright-eyed, thoughtful students I began forming relationships with this first week and the glimpse at the caringness of the staff and faculty at this prestigious university.
I was also lucky enough to be in Dean Washburn's section for the orientation course. The totality of the orientation was fun, enjoyable, and a deep, yet shallow, dive into the vast unknown of the law. I was genuinely excited to be here. After finishing up my first "law school exam" at the end of the week, I received a score and feedback from Dean Washburn. His kind words and confidence in my success at Iowa Law were invigorating and assured me that I was on the right path.
Then, the real fun began, the first semester of 1L year. I had Property with the brilliant Thomas P. Gallanis. A class where the material did not excite me much but the presence of such a caring, compassionate, and dedicated professor made me ecstatically nervous each day. I struggled with the material and showed up to my first class, having read the wrong material; still, I was thrilled to join the standing ovation Professor Gallanis received at the end of the semester.
I also was blessed to have Contracts with Professor Estin, Torts with Professor Bohannan, and Legal Analysis Writing and Research with Professor Liebig. Professor Estin was a master of the Socratic Method, and contracts quickly became my favorite course of the semester. It was like reading a drama each day, and it was often more difficult to put the book down than to pick it back up. For Professor Estin, I am incredibly grateful.
Professor Bohannan remains the only professor I still think about the cold call from my 1L year. Professor Bohannan provided the most foundational teachings of the law through her Torts course. She was a kind and caring individual and the first professor I visited during office hours, where my lack of office hour attendance will endure as one of my few regrets from Iowa Law.
Professor Liebig was the closest professor 1L year that I would have considered a friend. He prompted regular interactions with his students, told meaningful, hilarious stories during class and office hours, listened to the stories of his students learning about them beyond the walls of the law school, and provided practical and meaningful advice to my classmates and me.
I distinctly remember receiving my first real law school grade from Professor Liebig on our mid-semester memo, where I checked my grade that night of our 1L year Halloween Party. I was extremely disappointed in my performance, not because of the grade but because of its indication of the efforts I had been putting into law school thus far. I was disappointed in myself.
I came significantly more prepared for the final meeting before my last memo of the semester was due. Hearing Professor Liebig's subtle praise about my efforts and the eventual corresponding grade meant the world. Professor Liebig taught me to give an honest effort and focus on my legal education and treat it more than solely having fun. For him, I am grateful.
However, as much as my professors meant to me during the first semester of my 1L year, the highlight was meeting my girlfriend, Anne Parrish. Iowa Law put us in the same section, and the friendships we both kindled from this section lasts to this day. Anne and I started dating the night of our Torts exam, and I am so thankful to have found someone to support me and for me to support as we went through law school, a pandemic, racial unrest, and life together.
The second semester of 1L year is where law school and the world became tragically interesting. Again, I had outstanding professors. I had Professor Stella Burch Elias, undoubtedly the most extraordinary Civil Procedure professor in the United States, Professor Sarah Seo for Criminal Law, my favorite course of the semester and one of the most caring individuals I have ever met, and Professor Toddy Pettys for Constitutional Law I, who commands my utmost respect. I also had Professor Dawn Barker Anderson, the sweetest person at Iowa Law, and Professor Marc Linder for Labor Law, who remains nearly indescribable and has unparalleled dedication to his craft. I also took a week-long May intersession Zoom course with Dean Hughes and Peter Persaud on Topics in Criminal Law Practice after the world would be turned on its head.
The second semester of 1L year was cut short, and my time at Iowa Law dramatically shifted in response to the global crisis pandemic of COVID-19. Classes went to Pass/Fail, learning suffered, health suffered, and people lost so many loved ones. My family was relatively unaffected by COVID-19, but my grandmother, Sandy Bergman, passed away after years of fighting several forms of cancer during these unprecedented days, which cut short the time my family was able to spend with her due to social distancing constraints. Throughout these difficult times, the consistency, the energy, and the unwavering attitude of my professors at Iowa Law brought solace into my life. While my law school experience was not everything I had hoped it would be due to the terrors this world can bring upon humanity, the people at Iowa Law helped keep me afloat.
With the haphazard response in the job market to COVID-19, I struggled to find employment for my 1L summer. Through the loving assistance of my mother and the connections she had made in the small town of Clarinda, Iowa, I would eventually become connected with Judge Richard H. Davidson of Iowa's 4th District. Judge Davidson offered me direct insight into the courtroom as a legal extern and gave me the best possible experience given the world's circumstances. He provided profound life advice, and his impact on how I want to live far exceeded any legal training he could have offered. He is a role model, a mentor, and a student of life. I am thankful for all of his guidance and wisdom.
Going into my 2L year at Iowa Law, the world was still in disarray. The political, racial, cultural, judicial, and COVID climate and the actual climate were all facing deep crises of faith. School was primarily remote, with some classes opting into every other week in-person models. The first semester, I had Health Law with Professor Prince, Evidence with Professor Tomkovicz, Nonprofit Orgs with Professor Thelen, a kind soul who provided practical advice on being an attorney, and Public Health Law with Professor Linder.
Professor Prince was a fantastic professor. Taking her course, coupled with Professor Linder's Public Health Law, during a global pandemic was an unrivaled experience. Professor Prince handled the vast complexity of healthcare, depicted the difficulties of our current system, and provided guidance on how to shape the future of one of America's largest industries.
Professor Tomkovicz was in his last semester at Iowa Law when I took his Evidence course. The energy brought by Professor Tomkovicz to one of the most challenging times while teaching one of the most difficult subjects was inspiring. I am grateful to have spent a semester learning from him.
I also took Appellate Advocacy I this semester, where I learned that I do enjoy public speaking but being in a courtroom is not for me. The process was warped due to the irregularities of Zoom and adapting to working with a virtual partner. Litigation was not in my future, and I was perfectly okay with that. I am glad I gave it a shot.
The most impactful part of my 2L year was as a student-writer for the Journal of Gender, Race & Justice. I thoroughly enjoyed journal and being around the impactful scholarship. Journal showed me how much room there was for me to grow as a legal writer and opened the door to new relationships, responsibilities, and time commitments I had previously never experienced. Going into 3L year, I would become the inaugural Online Editor for the Journal of Gender, Race & Justice and loved my experience as a member of the Board.
During the second semester of my 2L year, I moved back in with my parents now that all of my classes were remote. I had Business Associations with Professor Shill, Iowa Debt Collection Law, and Iowa Real Estate Finance Law with Professor Bauer, and Introduction to Intellectual Property with Professor Rantanen to learn a little about what Anne was studying in all of the advanced Intellectual Property courses. While she dove into the depths of Patent Law, Copyright Law, and Trademarks, I took a more shallow approach in the introductory course. I loved my experience and the teaching style and charisma of Professor Rantanen.
I also took Reproductive Law and Justice with Professor Estin providing the opportunity to write a paper and experience a new teaching style with Professor Estin in an advanced course more in-line with her specialty of Family Law. I had a great experience and learned how to live better in a shifting society from her and my classmates in such a meaningful course.
Lastly, I took Basic Federal Income Taxation with Professor Carolyn Jones. Professor Jones ignited a passion for a subject area within the law that I had yet to experience. Professor Jones paved the way for a future for me in the legal profession.
Through her graciousness, she would write one of my letters of recommendation, along with Professor Lorie Schweer, a fellow Northern Iowa graduate, which would ultimately land me in the nation's top Tax LLM program at New York University. I cannot say enough kind words for Professor Jones, and her guidance has charted a pathway in my life that I could have never expected. I am elated to continue with my legal education and this remarkable journey.
Wrapping up with my 3L year, we were finally back in person, masked up and experiencing the joys of an academic community. The first semester, I was enrolled in Professor Responsibility with a remote professor, Bram Elias, who aided in my passing of the MPRE and offered hilarious tales and practice guidance on being a good attorney. I also continued my taxation education with State and Local Taxation (SALT) with Professor Kay-Decker and Accounting/Tax/Business Considerations for Lawyers with Professor Schweer. Professor Schweer pulled out my passion for taxation and tax policy and guided me throughout the application process for my LLMs. I cannot thank her enough for her dedication during my 3L year.
I was also fortunate enough to take Baseball Salary Arbitration with Professor Dan Matheson. Dan is one of the kindest men I have ever met, and it was a true privilege taking such a fun and engaging course with him. He is a dedicated mentor that truly wishes the best for all of his students. You cannot walk away from a meeting with Dan and not feel better about the world.
I also took another Professor Pettys course, this time in-person and not pass/fail, in Constitutional Law II. Professor Pettys is an inspiration. He is a caring professor who has the utmost desire for his students to learn. He tackled complex subjects and brought the Constitution to life. It was a true pleasure to take this course with him.
I again struggled to find work going into my second summer. Fortunately, career services and Dean Crain introduced me to a legal internship at HomeServices of Iowa. While at HomeServices, I worked under the dedicated guidance of Shannon Gausman, who graduated from Kansas Law. Shannon provided me one-on-one insight into working as an in-house counsel and helped me grow leaps and bounds as an employee. She was a brilliant mentor, and it was a pleasure learning from her. I am thankful she took a chance on me as her legal intern and am grateful for her presence in my life.
Going into my last semester at Iowa Law, I may have bit off a bit more than I could chew. While searching for a job, finishing my applications for LLMs, and taking a full schedule while balancing the demands of the journal board, I spent more time focused on school than I ever have before. It all paid off. My plate is clean. I am absolutely stuffed and need a long nap, but I joined the clean plate club and graduated with my highest semester GPA.
I was able to take another class with Dan, Sports Law, an absolute blast of a class in which it was perfectly evident as to the reason we had so many admitted and prospective students sitting in throughout the semester. I took Environmental Law with Professor Roesler, where I learned about the dangers of climate change, the devastating future we may endure, and the optimism required to move forward. I also took Corporate Finance, the law of the sharks, with Professor Robert Miller, a distinguished lecturer with a bountiful offering of practical life advice.
I also was fortunate to take another criminal class in the form of Criminal Procedure: Investigation with Professor Dean Strang. There are very few courses I have found more engagement with a professor and with the material. There is little I can say about Professor Strang other than to thank him for being an amazing person, lawyer, and professor.
Lastly, I concluded my taxation education at Iowa Law with Professor Grewal in the most demanding course I have ever taken, Taxation of Partnerships. Professor Grewal is a remarkable professor who cares about his students. On day one, he knew my name before I had ever taken a class with him. I thought I would be safe on day one from his reputation of calling on every student in every class due to him not knowing who I was, but alas, he took the time to get to know me and everyone else and ensured we learned the complexities of partnership tax. It was a true joy to take such a difficult final the morning of graduation, but I managed, and it made for one memorable experience.
Another reason for how memorable graduation would be was Anne's speech as our elected student commencement speaker. Anne delivered a stellar speech offering insight into the privilege of a law degree from Iowa, reminding us all of the importance of luck and the luck required to sit at this graduation, and the importance of family, humility, and giving back to your community. Her speech begins around the 19-minute mark; if you want to watch it: https://youtu.be/3Y3dhbUO6Vg.
After graduation, I worked with NYU to transition from their full-time in-person program to their Executive LLM so I could move to Minneapolis with Anne, take my courses online, and work full-time. Recently, I accepted a job offer at Wipfli as a SALT Consultant. I am eager to begin my career working in the field of taxation while continuing my education at NYU. Career services were instrumental in helping me land this position at Wipfli and a fellow Iowa Law alum, Daniel Kidney, a director at Wipfli, as well.
Iowa Law provided lifelong relationships, and there are too many for me to put in this already too long a letter deserving of my gratitude. To the friends and family that supported me, I give my thanks. I was introduced to so many amazing people over the last three years; I am humbled, proud, grateful, privileged, and lucky to have been a part of it all.
The University of Northern Iowa and its Honors Department and Philosophy Department prepared me well for Iowa Law. I know that Iowa Law has prepared me for my next step in education at NYU and for beginning my career at Wipfli. I am ready for the next steps and excited for my future.