'Sea change': U.S. Navy vet sets sail on a career in the law


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

With a father who served in the Army in Vietnam, and a grandfather who flew in the Army Air Corps during World War II, John Ramer had always considered the family tradition of military service.   

“After a few years in college, I made the decision to join because I felt a duty to serve,” says Ramer, who graduated summa cum laude last year from the University of Michigan Law School. “I picked the Navy because I grew up sailing on the Great Lakes, and life at sea appealed to me.”

A Surface Warfare Officer for close to 5 years, based in San Diego, Ramer deployed twice to the Arabian Gulf and once to the Western Pacific, serving on the USS Sterett, a guided-missile destroyer; the USS Bunker Hill, a guided-missile cruiser; and the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

“Without question, I most enjoyed the camaraderie with the men and women whom I served alongside,” he says. “A Navy ship brings together people from different parts of the country and from different backgrounds. But we all shared a belief in something, which led us to take the Oath in the first place. I made lifelong friends in the service.”   

A graduate of Boston College where he majored in finance and captained the Varsity Alpine Ski team, Ramer headed to U-M Law School in 2015.

“I knew the practice of law, and specifically appellate litigation, involved three things I enjoyed— reading, writing, and advocacy,” he says. “And I knew the law would still provide opportunities to serve again someday if I decided to do so.

“My father is a lawyer, so I grew up around the profession and knew you could still be a great parent while carrying on a thriving practice.”

Ramer enjoyed the intellectual challenge at MLaw.

“I figured law school would be my last opportunity to learn for learning's sake, so I took a number of classes that merely sounded interesting or were being taught by a great professor—even if the class didn't necessarily relate to my field of interest,” he says.

Earlier this year, Ramer spent 3 months as a research assistant for the Michigan Solicitor General’s Office, where he enjoyed learning from the attorneys.

“They are great lawyers, great mentors, and just great people,” he says. “My job entailed providing research for appellate briefs and dispositive motions in courts ranging from the Michigan Court of Claims up to the Michigan Supreme Court. The entire experience was a perfect introduction to practicing appellate law in Michigan.”

Since April he has been working as a Phillips Fellow in the Office of the Solicitor General at the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.

“It’s been an amazing experience. In addition to providing research for some cases being argued at the Supreme Court next term, I’ve been able to attend oral arguments and opinion announcements at the Court,” he says. “I’ve focused on trying to learn as much as possible from the attorneys in the office, because they are among the best appellate advocates in the country.”

He enjoys working in the nation’s capital, where he also worked last year as a summer associate at the global law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP. “The appellate work in D.C. is as interesting as it gets,” he says. “To work on cases on behalf of the United States has been a privilege.

“As for tourism, the monuments and the war memorials have been a highlight. My wife Whitney and I, along with a friend of ours who also went to Michigan Law, toured the monuments one night once they were illuminated. It was a beautiful and memorable evening.”

Ramer served in several capacities at MLaw, including as president of the Federalist Society.

“I truly enjoyed my time in the Federalist Society,” he says. “The organization provides a platform for debate on relevant and timely legal issues—debates that likely would not otherwise take place within a law school's curriculum due to the time constraints of learning the substantive material.”

He was co-president of the Michigan Law Veterans Society (MILVETS) that provided a number of benefits, including bringing in inspirational speakers for Veterans Day who had ties to the military and the law. They included Michigan Solicitor General and Army veteran Aaron Lindstrom; Michigan Law alum and former Green Beret Mir Ali; and Foley & Lardner partner Jeffrey Kopp, a colonel in the Army Reserve.

“The group also provided a level of camaraderie for the members,” Ramer says. “We had not only veterans, but also spouses, children, and siblings of veterans, who sacrifice just as much, and people who cared about veterans issues. Bringing all of us together gave us a sense of community on campus.”

Serving as a contributing editor on Michigan Law Review was a great learning experience, he says.

“I was fortunate to have my Note selected for publication, and it was a humbling experience to have my work edited by my peers. Their recommendations and suggestions made my Note much better than it would have been had I worked on it alone.”

A member of the executive board of the Campbell Moot Court Competition, Ramer explains that Michigan Law is one of the few moot court competitions where law students write the problem and run the competition from start to finish.

“When I served on the board, I was fortunate to work with a wonderful group of people, which made all the hard work much easier,” he says. “Now-Judge Larsen was the adviser for our Board, so it was great to have the opportunity to work with her as well. And we brought in Supreme Court litigator Paul Clement for our kick-off event, which was a highlight.”   

Ramer earned a host of kudos at MLaw, including the Jeffrey S. Lehman Legal Practice Award in his 1L year, as the best student in the 1L legal writing course; the Maurice Weigle Scholarship Award for having one of the highest GPAs after his first year; and he was runner-up in the 1L Oral Advocacy Competition,

He followed that in his 2L year with the Class of 1908 Memorial Scholarship for having the highest scholastic average. And in his 3L year, he was honored with the Henry M. Bates Memorial Scholarship, widely held to be MLaw’s highest honor, and according to the MLaw website, given to “outstanding seniors with account taken for scholarship in legal studies, personality, character, extracurricular interests, and promise of a distinguished career."

“I was fortunate and honored to receive a number of awards,” he says. “Although these awards are presented to me as an individual, they are really a reflection of the support of my friends and family--especially my wife, Whitney—and also a reflection of the guidance of the terrific professors I had at Michigan Law.”

This fall Ramer will return to Ann Arbor to serve as a law clerk to Judge Raymond M. Kethledge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, where he previously interned after his 1L year.   

“I’m looking forward to having the opportunity to learn as much as possible from Judge Kethledge,” he says. “Even though I took a class with him at Michigan Law, I know how much more I have to learn about legal writing, appellate advocacy, and the practice of law generally.”

Ramer hopes to specialize in appellate work, and he and his wife, both native Michiganders, would like to settle in the Wolverine state.

“If an opportunity presents itself in the future, I think I would enjoy returning to public service in some capacity,” he says. “But overall, my career goal is never to lose sight of the most important things in my life, which are my family, my friends, and my faith.”   

In his leisure time, Ramer enjoys reading fiction, especially Ernest Hemingway and Cormack McCarthy, and spending time with his wife and family.

“Whitney and I enjoy road biking together throughout Michigan, and—even having spent years on the ocean in the Navy—I still love sailboat racing,” he says. “Whenever we can, we like to go up to Harbor Springs because both of our families live there.”