Flying high: U.S. Air Force retiree is now studying at Wayne Law School

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

The U.S. Air Force was Phillip Patterson’s ticket out of his native Alabama, providing the opportunity to travel and see the rest of the country and the world. Taking advantage of the Tuition Assistance program he knocked out three AA degrees and a bachelor degree, and coursework towards an Executive MBA. He also met his wife Sepideh, who immigrated to the U.S. from Iran.

But after a long career in the USAF, and then running his own property management business, Patterson needed a physical and mental break, taking semi-retirement in Mexico.

“All I had known for 20 years was military service and I didn’t take time afterwards to really do some self-care and soul searching,” he says. “Moving to Mexico for 10 months was a great experience. The opportunity to learn first-hand about another culture, and the opportunity to reflect on what I value was just what I needed.”

When Patterson moved back north of the border, he knew he and his wife would land in Michigan to be close to his wife's family. But he had not yet decided on law school. When his brother-in-law rekindled that interest, Patterson took the LSAT in Mexico, paying the additional expense.

“The final examination prior to Wayne Law's application deadline--as luck would have it, I made the cut!” says Patterson, who is currently using a Veterans Administration program to pay for law school.

His path to the study of law was an indirect one.

“I had a lawyer play an important role in my early life helping my mom with child support cases against my biological father,” he says. “While I don’t think I want to practice family law, his empathy and willingness to help my mother never left my thoughts. Shout out to retired Judge Billy Bell back in north Alabama.”

Patterson is thoroughly enjoying his experiences at Wayne Law.

“While there is always room to do more, I love the diversity of our student body. I’m exposed to different schools of thought, people from different walks of life, people with different life experiences, and I love it. It’s a beautiful learning environment,” he says. “I also love our administrators and our professors. Wayne Law provides a top-notch education.”

Patterson is currently doing a remote externship with the National Labor Relations Board, conducting research for field attorneys and field examiners, and occasionally sitting in on affidavits or hearings.

“Labor law is quite interesting,” he says. “And the NLRB, being a neutral party, performs some interesting investigative lawyering to determine whether or not a violation of the National Labor Relations Act has occurred. I’m really enjoying my time there and my supervising attorney makes sure I am gainfully employed and have plenty of learning opportunities.”

Earlier in the summer, Patterson did a remote externship for Judge Michael Servitto at the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit. Patterson’s work consisted of legal research and writing, and he completed his externship by writing an opinion for Judge Servitto.

“While some elements were lost to COVID—no in-person appearances, no trials—other parts of the experience wouldn’t have been the same if not for Zoom,” Patterson says. “I was able to see Zoom come into the legal realm. I was able to see the attorneys and the judge adjust to the new reality. For many motion hearings and things of that nature, it worked quite well. “But what I value most was the opportunity to have conversations with the judge between cases. A real-time understanding of how a comment was taken or why a ruling went one way, or another was priceless.”

Participating in Mock Trial at Wayne Law brought out Patterson’s competitive side.

“It’s fun to learn the facts of a case and how to portray those facts in the light most favorable to your client. And the best thing about Mock Trial is that it forces you to argue both sides of the case, regardless of which side you may identify with the most,” he says. “Another great aspect is working with another awesome student at Wayne Law. I was partnered with Jalen Farmer and he’s an amazing man and is going to be an excellent attorney.”

Patterson notes that serving as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Business Law is making him grow as an attorney.

“The task of producing a legal writing from scratch on a novel topic is quite daunting—but here I am, a few weeks in, and my paper is starting to take shape. With a little luck, maybe it will be selected for publication,” he says. “Another aspect is the opportunity to edit a practicing attorney or professor's submission to the journal. It really forces you to develop a better understanding of the citation guide. Tedious, but necessary.”

Patterson also serves as Alumni Liaison for Delta Theta Phi.

“I love being a part of Delta Theta Phi,” he says. “Not only does the fraternity have a well-developed network here in Michigan, but that network extends world-wide! I work with our Alumni Senate and practicing attorneys to put on our DTP Speaker Series. I bring those attorneys in as guest speakers to talk with current and prospective DTP members. Most often the speakers tell students about their own path from law school to their current practice. This gives students exposure to different practice areas and also lets them see that there are many routes to being a successful attorney.”

Patterson is still mulling which practice area of law will be his eventual calling.

“My goal is to narrow things down over the coming weeks so I can register for winter courses that align with whichever practice area I choose,” he says. “My military experience would really lend itself to work in the areas of e-discovery and data analytics if anyone has a lead on that kind work for the spring or summer. And, having duked it out with the Department of Veterans Affairs myself, some work in veterans’ disability law would be rewarding. Most recently I’ve been looking at estate planning.

“My career goals are still not in focus,” he adds. “I want to work with an organization that has a great culture. I would also love to work with an organization that understands and values the experience I gained from 20 years in the Air Force—the life experiences and hands-on work that most young attorneys don’t yet possess.”

Patterson, who is fluent in Farsi, has been hunkered down at his home in Rochester Hills during the pandemic, with his wife Sepideh "Sofia" Bahrami, and sons Gabriel and Alexander.

“I’m not sure how much money we’ve spent on Amazon, Walmart, Meijer, during all of this—yes I am, but I refuse to admit it,” he says with a smile. “Delivery right to the door.” “We also have my 77-year-old mother-in-law with us, and we take extra measures to make sure we’re safe. Because of that, I also have my 5-year-old in kindergarten and my 10-year-old in fifth grade...virtually.
Managing their education is another thing I must balance. There’s a whole lot of learning going on inside these four walls at the moment. Add my own classes into the mix and it’s a free-for-all. The Internet bandwidth can suffer.

“And there’s nothing like my youngest popping into my office while I’m in the middle of something,” he adds. “I’ve tried to have a conversation about boundaries with him, but he just laughs and bounces away—the joys of being 5. We try to stay sane by exercising a bit and laughing at ourselves and the situation as often as possible.”

In his leisure time, Patterson enjoys watching sports, especially Alabama Crimson Tide football, good craft beer, and travel. As a transplant to the Great Lakes State, he has enjoyed exploring Michigan, especially the southeast area.

“We’ve also had opportunity to go up north a few times,” he says. “While I’m not yet sold on the winter here, we’re adjusting just fine!



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