Six Stein Graduates—Helen Terrero-Black ’16, Tim Hiel ’14, Eric Axelrad ’12, Lynn Capuano ’02, Kevin Carroll ’01, and Edgar De Leon ’98—whose public service includes time engaged with the military or the Police, share their perspectives on those experiences and the impact they had on life during law school and as attorneys.
Helen Terrero-Black ’16
Assistant Corp Counsel, NYC Law Department
I joined the military for lots of reasons, but like many, I joined primarily as a way to help pay for college. At the time, I wanted to be a physician, not a lawyer, and knew that my endeavor would be long and costly. I initially joined as a reservist in the U.S. Army and was trained as a combat medic and operating room specialist. But after training and some time in college, I decided to join the active Army. The impetus behind my decision to “go active” was, as cliché as it might sound, my desire to help people. During my on-the-job training, I really fell in love with what working in the service of others felt like. I enjoyed being able to make a difference in the lives of others, especially those who were sick, in need, and were truly at the mercy of those taking care of them. Plus, I loved the intensity of working in the operating room.
I was in the active Army for six years. I was assigned to missions in Korea and Iraq, where I was deployed from 2005-2006. When I returned from my deployment and my enlistment contract was up, I left active duty in order to finish my degree and take the MCAT. However, I continued on as a reservist. As a full-time student, I also started working at a nonprofit health center in Hawaii. This is where my career path changed. This health center took care of the low-income and indigenous population in Hawaii, and it was exactly where I wanted to be. As the patient services supervisor for a nonprofit, I worked with both the medical and legal staff, as well as the state legislature on funding new health initiatives that would help those less fortunate in our community. In doing this work, I came to see how complexities in the medical profession are driven by business and politics, as opposed to the individual patient’s needs. The issues were systemic and needed systemic change—the work of lawyers.
This experience ultimately prompted me to attend law school instead of medical school. I applied to law schools knowing that I wanted to go back into government service upon graduation and do the peoples’ work. My desire to work in the service of others, to help those in need had never wavered; it had only shifted. Fordham Law was an easy choice to make primarily because I knew the School had a public service spirit and it had a vibrant veteran community. Further, the Stein Scholars Program was and is unique among law schools and offered me the ability to help fund my public interest summers while also connecting me to those in the community who had the same desires and objectives. I felt right at home with my Stein Scholar peers, and the mentoring I received was beyond what I could have expected. I remember the many times I would walk into Andrew Chapin’s office seeking advice on a job interview or an email I was about to send to a potential employer, as well as the times I sought input on what job offer to take. The Stein Scholars Program was a crucial and indispensable part of my legal education. They were with me every step of the way helping me achieve my ultimate goal—that of living my life in the service of others and continuing the endeavor I had started so many years before as a private in the Army.
Tim Hiel ’14
Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, New York County
When I hung up my boots to become a full-time student again, the Stein Scholars Program was a big part of my Fordham Law experience. I felt fortunate to have a group of peers committed to public interest law. I will always be thankful for the sound advice I received on navigating the legal profession, especially from Andrew Chapin and Professor Bruce Green.
In my current career as an assistant district attorney, I often draw on my military experience. This was also the case during an internship at Catholic Relief Services representing immigrant victims of labor law violations, and I think it would apply broadly to working as a lawyer. Interacting with such a wide variety of people as a Marine, often in adverse conditions, has given me a realistic perspective when assessing witness credibility and motivations. I also think my experiences have fostered a healthy skepticism and a willingness to ask hard questions. Certainly, after fighting in combat, the stresses of law school finals or dealing with an ornery judge are easy to place in perspective!
Eric Axelrad ’12
I came to Fordham Law after serving in the Army for four years, and remained in the Army Reserves for much of my time in law school. After commissioning as an Army officer, I was branched into the infantry, completed training including Airborne and Ranger School and then spent 14 months in Iraq as an infantry platoon leader. I spent my time in Iraq planning and leading a variety of missions. I don’t know much about what other career fields in the Army are like, but being an infantryman in a remote outpost was a harsh life; very physically and mentally tiring. I was fortunate that a new GI bill was put into place just as my active duty military service requirement was coming to an end. Getting a full ride to school seemed much more pleasant than spending the upcoming year in Afghanistan.
I didn’t really know much about law before applying to Fordham; I applied because it seemed like a law degree would be useful. Fordham Law and the Stein Scholars Program was quite a culture shock for me. I went from being a liberal soldier to a conservative law student overnight without any actual change in my beliefs. I found it difficult to contribute much as a Stein Scholar because I was such an outlier. I had spent countless nights going house to house catching terrorists, and now many of my classmates were spending their days trying to free inmates from Guantanamo. I didn’t want to get bogged down in endless arguments with my classmates, so I didn’t. Instead I just focused on living the good life. Brunch? Yes! A night at the opera? Sure! Hot showers? Awesome! My three years of law school ended up being very agreeable and did me good. Being a Stein helped me maintain financial independence, which in turn allowed me to solely pursue public interest work. I didn’t do OCI (On-Campus Interviews), and I was fortunate to land a job with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after graduation. (By fortunate, I mean I landed a job after applying to about 300 different public interest positions.)
I don’t really know how to tie my military service to law school because they had little in common. No one reading this is probably considering a military career, except maybe in the JAG Corps, which is such a different beast that I don’t know what advice I can offer there either. But the military was in most ways a positive experience for me, and allowed me to meet people from walks of life that I never would have been able to if I stayed in New York. I still keep in touch with my old soldiers from Tennessee, California, and Utah on a daily basis. The way the military brings the people of our nation together in these increasingly divided times is a big plus, and while I would caution everyone to think long and hard before joining the Army, leaving your comfort zone every now and then in even small ways can have a very beneficial impact on your perspectives.
Lynn Capuano ’02
President, Terrapin Environmental Solutions
My father served in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve while I was growing up. He suggested I look into the military during my college years, but I wasn’t interested at that point in my life. It wasn’t until law school that I even began to think about the military as an option and it wasn’t until after 9/11 that I started to seriously consider the military as a career path. I was open to pursuing a career with the military because I believed (and still do today) that everyone should undertake some form of national service. I also felt that the only way to understand this really important aspect of our country was to join it and be part of it. Fordham Law School was a good place to make this choice, because even though it wasn’t a popular path, I never felt judged for choosing it. It was understood that military service fell within the definition of service. That was also true for the Stein Scholars Program, which reinforced and encouraged my commitment to service throughout my time in the program.
I really wanted to clerk for a judge though, so I focused on that for my first job out of law school. A few months into the clerkship, however, I decided to look into the military for my post-clerkship position. I chose the Coast Guard because of the diversity of missions (the Coast Guard has life-saving and environmental protection missions, as well as national defense and homeland security missions), which meant that I would have the opportunity to work in different areas of law. I joined in order to get firsthand experience with military service, which I was curious about, while simultaneously serving my country and gaining great legal training. At the time, it seemed like a terrific option and an excellent place to get a foundation, regardless of whether I made a career out of the military or eventually followed a different career path.
As it turned out, I loved my time on active duty. I spent my first few months counseling headquarters offices on environmental law compliance and after about seven months of that had the opportunity to accept a position in a naval legal services office serving as defense counsel for Navy, Marine, and Coast Guard personnel accused of Uniform Code of Military Justice violations. From there, I spent two years covering appeals of convictions and disability separation decision appeals. As my four-year commitment came to an end, I made the difficult decision to get off active duty. After that, I worked at the Hofstra Law housing and civil rights clinic and then at the EPA. Recently, I started my own environmental advisory services company.
I stayed in the Reserve after leaving active duty, however, because there was more I wanted to experience. I still drill and hold positions with the Reserve and I have been recalled once. I went to southern Louisiana following the Deep Horizon oil spill in 2010. Participating in that mission was professionally amazing. I was part of the contingent that outfitted private vessels and sent military personnel out to skim oil from the water, which is different from beach clean-up. It was a turning point for me professionally, as it provided leadership roles and additional exposure to environmental services work, which is what I am now doing in my day-to-day life.
Although I haven’t served in a legal position since my time in active duty, my experiences during those first four years were formative and the lessons I learned then are ones I return to regularly. There can be a lot of sitting around in the Coast Guard, but when a crisis hits, there is a can-do attitude that enables everyone to have trust and confidence in our collective ability to figure out how to take care of the problem and to jump into action. What most surprised me about the Coast Guard was the confidence in and responsibility given to its members. Every member of the Coast Guard regardless of rank is expected to and does step up when the need presents itself. Overall, Coast Guard members take their jobs seriously and are committed to what we do and what we stand for. That is particularly true for reservists, as they are choosing to take on this responsibility, often on top of full time jobs and family obligations. What’s been most rewarding is being part of something bigger than myself. When I’m in uniform, I am part of a small but dedicated and capable organization that works every single day to help people. That’s a pretty inspiring thing that keeps me wanting to continue my service. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve had some pretty cool jobs and worked with some fantastic people.
Kevin Carroll ’01
Department of Homeland Security
I hold the rank of lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve. Additionally, I served as a CIA case officer with service in a Middle Eastern combat zone. I chose to join the Army simply because America has been very good to my family since it emigrated from Ireland, and military service is a way to help pay that back. The most rewarding and challenging aspect of military service is leading men in combat zones. I was on active duty before Fordham Law and remained in the Reserve, with three wartime mobilizations for deployments after graduation in 2001. Specifically, I served as an analyst and briefer for the director of intelligence for the Joint Staff, the commander of Joint Task Force Guantanamo Bay, and the U.S. Afghan theater commander at Bagram from 2002-03; as a regional assessment team commander in Baghdad in 2008-09; and as a human intelligence case officer attached to the 75th Ranger Regiment in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2010.
My initial military service shaped my law school experience by making me sympathetic to law enforcement and crime victims. My later service gave me an interest in pro bono work on behalf of servicemen and veterans, because of the serious problems I observed over time in the military justice system and within the Department of Veterans Affairs.
A way my perspective has changed since I was a law student—primarily as a result of those subsequent pro bono experiences—is that I hope I am more sensitive to the rights of the falsely accused and of whistleblowers, and the need for legal representation of the poor. I now appreciate and understand better the strong emphases on due process and social justice in the Stein ethics classes that I took while a member of the Stein Scholars Program.
Since graduating from Fordham, I clerked for the Honorable Thomas C. Platt (EDNY), served as senior counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security and practiced law at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, as well as at Hughes Hubbard & Reed. More recently, I was the deputy general counsel and senior VP for legal and government affairs with Babel Street, Inc., a social media and data analytics company.
Edgar De Leon ’98
Founding Partner, The De Leon Firm, PLLC
The most monumental decision I ever made in life was to join the NYPD. I never dreamed of or aspired to be a police officer. Indeed, having been raised in the public housing behind Fordham Law School during the 60s, I did not have a favorable impression of police officers. After having been kicked out of SUNY New Paltz in 1975, I drifted in and out of jobs until I started to work for the United Parcel Service. Being a teamster, I was earning $17.00 per hour, more money than any of my friends at the time. But I was not happy and could not see myself delivering packages for the next 30 years. When a friend of mine joined the police department, I felt that he had a “career,” while I just had a “job.” I took the test, allowed the process to go forward, and one day had to make the decision to either stay with UPS or take a $10,000 a year pay cut and join the NYPD. Taking the pay cut and joining the NYPD is the best decision I’ve ever made in my life.
The police department taught me a lot about government, the law, and the importance of its implementation in our everyday lives. Mostly, it taught me a lot about myself. As a New York City police officer, I got the opportunity to help individuals, while also working on issues that affected the community at large and the nature of policing in NYC. I even had the opportunity to expand that work to other jurisdictions in the United States and abroad by, for example, helping to draft the policies and procedures for law enforcement’s investigation and handling of hate crimes and corruption. As a police officer and now as an attorney, I know that I have had the opportunity to affect the lives of many individuals and the broader community, and that I have positively done so on many occasions. Jackie Robinson’s epitaph reads “A life is not important, except in the impact it has on other lives.” Serving as a police officer and now as an attorney has given my life meaning and worth. I am proud of my service and would encourage others to serve in any way they deem appropriate for themselves.