Law Student Limelight: Julie Cummings, Golden Gate University Law


GoldenGate U Julie CummingsSTUDENT: Julie Cummings

LAW SCHOOL: Golden Gate University School of Law

STATUS: 2L (Dean’s List all semesters, recipient of multiple scholarships, Law Review staff writer)

UNDERGRADUATE: Bachelor of Arts, Liberal Studies, linguistics emphasis; California State University-Fresno (Stilwell Sabre recipient for Most Outstanding Cadet in California)

OTHER DEGREES/INSTITUTIONS: Master of Science, International Relations; Troy University, Troy, Alabama (4.0 GPA)

HOME: Walnut Creek, California

For former military pilot Julie Cummings, it was a short jump from advocating as a volunteer on behalf of military families to advocating as a lawyer for needy civilian clients.

“When I realized I had a passion for advocacy, I knew that practicing law would be a perfect fit for my next career,” said Cummings, a 2L at Golden Gate University School of Law whose first career was flying Blackhawk helicopters on search-and-rescue missions as a U.S. Army officer.

“I loved what the Army offered – mental and physical challenges coupled with an environment in which I could learn leadership skills, “ she said in an interview. “As for my flying bug, blame my father for that.”

As Cummings recalled, one day her father asked if she’d like to take a short flight – just for fun – with a friend in the friend’s Cessna airplane. “Big mistake,” she said.

Cummings said she wanted to be a pilot ever since. “The thrill of flying on a moonless night mere feet off rough seas, seeing through the reduced 40-degree-field-of-view of night-vision devices – the normal field being 190 degrees – is indescribable,” she said.

Under such demanding flight conditions, she added: “Teamwork is more than a catchphrase; it is essential to the safety of the crew and passengers.”

So is an officer’s ability to fulfill multiple roles equally well. In Cummings’ case, that meant maintaining her high-level flight proficiency; being accountable for $52 million worth of equipment; managing a staff, and both understanding and complying with complex Army, Department of Defense and international regulations.

She also mentored more than 25 newly hired women military professionals, assisting them to succeed in a traditionally male-oriented profession.

“I thrived in the Army because I worked with talented colleagues who showed me that creative problem solving was both an art and science,” Cummings said.  “Learning from others, and building knowledge through past experience, paid dividends in the fluid military environment.”

What followed over the next five years were the travails of a dual-career military couple.

Cummings, by then a captain, left the Army to care for her baby son, who was born four months premature with all the attendant health problems of a premie. “It was a joint decision, my husband, Walter, and I recognizing that only one of us could be with Ian through months, maybe years of intensive therapy, and only one of us could continue in the military,” she said.

Three years later, the couple realized that her rejoining wasn’t an option, since the Army couldn’t guarantee both parents wouldn’t be simultaneously deployed. “We weren’t prepared to allow someone else to raise our son for a year or so,” she said. “We wanted to ensure that at least one of us was providing stability and continuity.”

Toddlers sleep – a lot. That’s when Cummings decided to work on a masters degree. With their son in school as a kindergartner, Cummings recalled thinking that military spouses have three choices: Don’t work and do what you please. Work a job for which you’re overqualified and underpaid, since few careers are highly portable. Or do community service, which keeps your skill-sets sharp and your bank account empty.

“We weren’t living near a university at the time, so I went the community-service route,” Cummings said.

She joined the boards of several nonprofits for which she raised thousands of dollars to supplement critical budget shortfalls in schools and to fund grants for military family members attending college. On one Army installation she was appointed a representative for 331 military families regarding their homes and residential services.

“I had to solicit comments, distill and present issues – landscapers leaving dangerous things in the park, streetlights not being repaired – and bring those issues to resolution,” Cummings said. “After several years I thought this has got to be the makings of a career.”

Her “favorite confidant” (read husband), she said, agreed that the career would start with law school.

LAWDRAGON: What were key factors you used to choose a law school?

JULIE CUMMINGS: I grew up in Northern California and knew that I wanted to return once I left the Army. I chose Golden Gate University School of Law for several reasons, the foremost being that I desired a regional school that would prepare me for practice in the Bay Area.

The smaller class sizes were also appealing and, in retrospect, they have afforded me ample opportunity to interact with my professors and my classmates on a more personal level.

GGU Law offers several on-site clinics and honors programs that I knew would provide me with the opportunity to represent real-world clients by my first summer, before my 2L year. With the rapid development of legal skills through the Honors Lawyering Program, I knew I would have the training and support needed to represent underserved members of my community in an effective way far sooner than otherwise possible.

The honors program involves a normal 1L year and then a jump 10 days later into the first semester of 2L, including partnering with a classmate to handle the landlord-tenant case of a real client. Now, in the fall of my 2L I can work full time as an apprentice for three months, 35 hours a week.

LD: What do you wish you’d known about law school before enrolling?

JC: Fortunately, prior to attending law school I had thoroughly researched the law school experience.  For instance, I read several books; I asked attorneys to share their experiences with me, and I attended a GGU-sponsored overview.  I was prepared, as a result, for the intensity of law school.  That is, I at least had a theoretical idea of the impending academic rigors.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the immediate need for professional clothing.  It may sound trivial, but I wish I had purchased one or two suits in advance of stepping foot on campus. Instead, I had to race to a store one Saturday afternoon mid-semester, leaving behind a pile of casebooks to read as I scrambled to purchase a decent suit in time for an important event that popped up.  That was additional stress I didn’t appreciate.

LD: What has been your most valuable law school experience?

JC: GGU’s Honors Lawyering Program has provided me with the most valuable experience in that I’m already interning for a second time, and I’m only halfway finished with my 2L year.

As an Honors Lawyering Program student, I completed 12 academic units my first summer while helping to represent a low-income client to resolve residential habitability issues. I developed essential lawyering skills while building a strong case and providing superior client service: I bolstered my research, writing and legal analysis abilities, for example, in the course of preparing a demand letter and complaint that led to the abatement of longstanding repairs.

I never imagined I would be working for a real client (under attorney supervision) after just two semesters of school.  The learning curve was steep, yet the reward satisfying and I felt supported all along the way.

I’m now also able to intern full time at the U.S. Postal Service defending all aspects of employment actions brought against that agency.  Unlike shorter internships, I can enjoy a rich experience learning many aspects of employment law and working alongside talented attorneys. Once again, I’ve learned the practical skills needed to succeed in law because I’ve been given the opportunity to write my own motions, advise clients and conduct research relevant to our cases.

LD: What do you plan to do with your J.D.?

JC: Since starting law school, my plans continue to evolve. As a former leader of soldiers, I recognize that the plan I enter with is not always the plan best suited for my needs, so I’m remaining flexible and open to new outcomes. My goal is to immerse myself in as many diverse legal fields as possible while I’m in school. Much like flying dangerous and exciting night missions, I have full confidence that I will find exactly what I am looking for.

Contact Margot Slade at (646) 722-2623 or