A family first Law school graduate blazes academic trail

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By Debra Talcott

Legal News

Taught by his mother to "give back to those that helped you get where you are," recent Cooley Law School graduate Anthony Johnson has made service to country and community a way of life. A veteran of the U.S. Air Force, a leader in numerous campus organizations, and a volunteer in the community, Johnson is one of those people whose boundless energy would make him the perfect spokesperson for a protein drink commercial.

Before coming to Michigan to work on his law degree at the Auburn Hills campus, Johnson completed four years of active duty as a C-17A Loadmaster in the U.S. Air Force. While studying at Cooley, he completed two additional years in the Air Force Reserves in the Air Terminal Operations Center.

"I learned a lot about myself while serving in the military," reflects Johnson. "I first entered the Air Force at the age of 18. I was pretty much fresh out of high school and had never been outside of my home state of Georgia."

Underscoring the portion of President Obama's recent State of the Union address that spoke about the importance of people from different backgrounds putting aside differences and working toward a common cause, Johnson talks about the diversity he experienced in the military.

"The military is composed of different people who come from different walks of life," he says. "There are different races, religions, genders, national origins, financial backgrounds, and more. But at the end of the day, none of it mattered because we all had to do the same mission. We had to understand each other through our differences so that we could complete the same goals."

Johnson feels he grew as a person through his experiences with people whose backgrounds were so different from his own. He also appreciates the support he felt from his fellow soldiers.

"My best memory was when I graduated with my B.A. from Thomas Edison State College. It seemed everyone in my squadron was proud and congratulated me. It was as if it was a great moment, not only for me, but for my squadron as well."

The first in his family to graduate from college, Johnson says his inspiration came from his family.

"They wanted me to be the first. That inspired me -- for my family to want me to have what they didn't," says Johnson. "I also wanted to help others. The legal profession is one of the noblest professions; we are always representing someone else and always having to put others before ourselves."

While at Cooley, Johnson distinguished himself as a leader and put himself in a position to be a voice for his peers. He served as President of the Student Bar Association and President of the Cooley Veterans Organization. In the former capacity Johnson met with Cooley deans and SBA presidents from the other campuses to deal with issues affecting the entire student body. In the latter role he worked with the Oakland County Bar Association on the Service to Soldiers program and Operation Iraq PAC

As Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity Marshall, Johnson was charged with keeping order during meetings and escorting members during the initiation ceremony. The organization fosters fraternal fellowship while advancing professional ideals.

As Criminal Law Society corresponding secretary, Johnson maintained communication with the entire membership, and as Moot Court Board First-Year Competition co-chairperson, he worked with board members from all four of Cooley's campuses to coordinate a successful event.

All of the leadership experience Johnson garnered in his 2-1/2 years at Cooley has prepared him for his future practice of family law and criminal defense.

"I chose these two areas for several reasons," he says. "First, family law is near and dear to my heart. I grew up down the street from a foster home, and to this day, some of the ladies that lived there are my close friends. Many of my high school friends are single parents, and I supported a couple of Air Force buddies who were going through a divorce. Through life I've learned that people really need a voice in those matters. They are often scared, ashamed, confused, and very emotional, and they need someone to speak for them when they cannot speak for themselves."

Johnson's experience growing up in a neighborhood where the local high school had a very low graduation rate led to his decision to become a criminal defense attorney.

"The group of kids that were zoned to my school came from neighborhoods that were infested with drugs, domestic violence, theft -- you name it, and it was probably there. Most of those kids never graduated. Many are currently in, or have been in, jail or prison. Even some of my cousins couldn't break the cycle," explains Johnson, who wanted to help change those statistics.

"I figured that I had to learn before I could lead," says Johnson. "As a criminal defense lawyer, I want to educate defendants that there's a better way to do things and to ensure that law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and others involved in the process are abiding by the law. We all have duties, and we all have to make sure that everyone gets a 'fair shake.' For me, it's a matter of 'treat others how you want to be treated.'"

Johnson credits the Cooley Law School program and the people who execute it for the excellent preparation he received.

"The faculty, staff, and administration were nothing short of amazing. In the time I was there we became one huge family. We looked out for each other. Just like in the Air Force, most of us were from different walks of life. Yet we still managed to get along, set our differences aside, and make things happen."

One class that Johnson will always remember is the Trial Skills class he had with Assistant Professor Lewis Langham Jr. He respects Langham for pushing his students every time they showed up for class.

"No matter how much I may have thought I'd improved, he let me know that I still had a long way to go," Johnson says. "Professor Langham kept me on my toes and never let me slack off. Even when I was good, he wanted it to be better. By the end of that class, I knew I had come a long way."

Johnson has also come a long way from the little boy raised by a single parent until he was nine to the man he is today. He has traveled to more than 20 countries around the world and calls travel a great experience that has provided a better understanding of the world and America's role in it. If you ask him to name his favorite destination, he will probably say it is Wellington, New Zealand, as that is where he met his wife, Annelise, while on a mission there with the Air Force.

Wherever Johnson goes next, he will keep pushing himself to do better, in both his professional and personal roles. As an attorney, he will work hard to give his clients and their families the best representation. On his personal time, he will continue to give back to the community. A member of Big Brothers Big Sisters and Service to Soldiers, Johnson will continue to be an excellent role model.

Just ask that professor whom Johnson has praised for challenging him to always do his best.

"Anthony will be a very good lawyer, and the bar will welcome him with open arms," says Lewis Langham. "As a student in my Trial Skills class, he always made good solid arguments in motion practice and stood his ground as he represented his clients during trial in a very professional and ethical manner."

To others considering law school in general and Cooley Law School in particular, the January 2012 graduate offers word of encouragement.

"I would say, 'Rock out,' and encourage them to do it," Johnson says. "Just know that it's not going to be easy-getting into law school won't, graduating law school won't, and probably even after law school won't be easy. But never take no for an answer. After all, nothing easy has ever been worth keeping."

Published: Tue, Feb 7, 2012