Alumni Spotlight: Brett Erland '12
Brett Erland, Class of 2012, was recently promoted to Major in the US Army. Major Erland joined the Army JAG after graduating from Touro Law and is enjoying a rewarding career. In this Q&A, he talks about his experiences and offers advice to both prospective and current students.
Why did you decide to attend Touro Law Center?
I decided to attend Touro for three reasons: 1) I grew up in Miller Place, NY so commuting to Central Islip every day was very convenient; 2) Touro offered me a generous partial scholarship; 3) I knew of several successful attorneys practicing on Long Island who had graduated from Touro and spoke highly of the program. I was enrolled in the full-time program.
Did you always have your sights on a military career? How did you end up where you are now?
Not always. I always knew that I wanted to serve the nation in some capacity, but until I started law school I wasn't sure how I could marry my desire to serve with my career aspirations. My family has a long history of military service. Both of my grandfathers fought in the Pacific theater during WWII, my father served in the Air Force, and two of my uncles served in the Army (one of them did a tour in Vietnam).
I have always had a passion for debate and an interest in criminal justice, so after graduating with a BA in History from the University of Delaware I decided to apply to law schools. I knew that each military branch had its own Corps of officers/attorneys - a Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) - but I didn't begin really looking into what the service JAG Corps was really about until my first year at Touro. After doing some research, I concluded that serving in the U.S. Army JAG Corps could offer me an exciting career that could both satisfy my passion for litigation and my desire to serve.
During my second year at Touro, a Field Screening Officer (FSO) from the US Army JAG Corps came to the law center to conduct interviews with students interested in joining the Corps. I was impressed with the FSO and the things he had to say about serving as a Judge Advocate. He ultimately recommended approval of my application to join the Corps and the rest is history.
Since accepting my commission in June 2013, I have lived in three different states, traveled to dozens of locations around the world, worked six different jobs within JAG, and had a variety of unforgettable experiences. I spent three years in Hawaii, working first as a legal assistance attorney, then as an administrative law attorney, and finally as a prosecutor. After that, I spent two and a half years in Missouri, initially working as a defense counsel and then later as the Senior Defense Counsel for Fort Leonard Wood. After leaving Missouri, I moved to Alexandria, Virginia, and took up my current position as a training officer at the Defense Counsel Assistance Program. I’ve spent the last two years traveling the world teaching Army defense counsel the ins and outs of military justice and trial advocacy.
What clinics/student experiences did you have that you feel prepared you for your career? Were there faculty members or specific classes that you feel helped shape your school experience and prepare you for the real world?
In my first year at Touro, I worked as an intern at the US Attorney’s Office in Washington, D.C. in the Organized Crime and Narcotics Division. The next year I interned in the Narcotics Bureau of the Suffolk County DA’s Office. Both of these internships were incredible opportunities that provided me with invaluable real-world criminal justice experience. I got to review evidence in numerous ongoing felony investigations, draft motions, and assist in actually building cases.
In my last year at Touro, I worked in the Veteran’s Clinic at the Law Center. I was able to assist injured veterans with appealing their VA ratings in an effort to get them the benefits they deserved. It was a tremendously rewarding experience.
As far as student experiences, one of my favorites was being a member of the Touro Moot Court Team. Our team competed in multiple national competitions with quite a bit of success. Having the opportunity to draft appellate briefs on current controversial legal issues and arguing those briefs in front of panels of seasoned attorneys and judges really helped prepare me for my future career as a litigator.
American Trial Courts, taught by Professor (now Associate Dean) Myra Berman, was my favorite course at Touro. I truly enjoyed being able to observe ongoing cases in the NY District, Family, and Supreme Courts and having the opportunity to speak with the presiding judges. The class provided me with tremendous insight into the inner workings of the NYS judicial system that you simply cannot get in a classroom environment. Professor Berman quickly became one of my most trusted mentors and a big reason why I was ultimately able to achieve my goals.
What is one of your fondest memories from law school?
My fondest memory from my time at Touro came from an experience I had in the Veteran’s Clinic as a 3L. I had the distinct honor and privilege of representing a Gulf War veteran who had experienced significant nerve damage in his back as a result of injuries he sustained while deployed in the Middle East. This veteran’s nerve injury was so severe that he could not sit down, lay down, stand for long periods of time, or engage in almost any physical activity without experiencing significant pain. Despite that fact, the initial disability rating he received from the VA was less than 50%. This man’s injury made him unemployable by VA standards and he was thus deserving of a 100% disability rating. After multiple appeals, my colleagues at the clinic and I were finally able to get the veteran the 100% disability rating he deserved. It was my single greatest accomplishment at Touro.
What advice would you give to a current or prospective law student?
With regard to prospective law students, my advice is to follow your passion. Being an attorney can be a fun, rewarding, and incredibly fulfilling career if you have a passion for the law. But, in my opinion, if the law isn’t your passion, and attending law school is simply a means to acquire wealth, status, etc., then a career as an attorney may not be right for you.
With regard to current law students, my advice is to keep your options open, as well as your mind. You may feel like you’re only interested in practicing one specific area of law, but if you explore different areas of the law by taking classes, participating in clinics, and taking on internships outside of your area of interest, you may find that your passion lies somewhere you didn’t expect.