The University of Virginia School of Law’s incoming class has the highest concentration of military-affiliated students since the school started keeping track a decade ago. Six percent of the class are veterans, reservists, active-duty personnel or students on ROTC educational delay.

“Students with military experience bring vital diversity to the Law School community," Dean of Admissions Cordel Faulk said. "Having so many members of the Class of 2019 with experience in the armed services will include important points of view for discussion in and out of the classroom.” 

Several service academies are represented, including the U.S. Military Academy, the U.S. Naval Academy, and the U.S. Air Force Academy, as well as Virginia Military Institute and Norwich University, the military college of Vermont.

Many students are attracted to the Law School’s existing military community and related student organizations, as well as the tuition benefits of attending a public school. Under the GI Bill, military personnel qualify for in-state tuition and fees, and students who haven’t used their educational benefits yet on undergraduate or graduate school can attend for free. Dependents of military personnel may also use their sponsor’s GI Bill benefits under the post-9/11 GI Bill transferability provisions.

“It’s a very smart way to pay for law school,” said Director of Financial Aid Jennifer Hulvey, who serves as a special liaison to the school’s veterans.

Hulvey and Admissions officials help connect prospective students with current students who have military affiliations, including through the student organizations Virginia Law Veterans and Advocates for Disabled Veterans.  

“We’ve worked very hard to be military-friendly in every way,” she said.

The Law School is also located next door to the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School, offering another way for students to interact with others who serve. Several classes at the JAG School are open to UVA Law students for course credit, and JAG and other military officers sometimes take UVA Law courses.  Additionally, Professors A. Benjamin Spencer and Tom Nachbar both serve in the Army JAG Corps Reserve.

Learn more about the experience and goals of four students who joined the military community as part of UVA Law’s Class of 2019:

Kimberly Hopkin

Hometown: Lake Mary, Florida

Education: U.S. Air Force Academy, majored in political science and economics

Other military experience: Active duty Air Force officer

Why did you want to serve in the military? For me, it's kind of like the family business. My dad was a fighter pilot, my mom was an Air Force nurse, my brother is a tanker pilot and this extends to grandfathers, uncles, cousins, etc. I've seen firsthand how rewarding it can be to serve your country — and how 95 percent of the time, it doesn't feel like a sacrifice. Both my dad and brother also went to USAFA, so when I decided to attend their alma mater, I signed onto a five-year commitment, and I think it'll be my home for much longer.

Why did you decide to go to law school? I've always been interested in the law as an abstract concept. USAFA has a mandatory Uniform Code of Military Justice course that's taught using the Socratic method, and I enjoyed learning about those statutes and how to think about them. It wasn't until I was made a "board member" (a jury member) on a discharge board that I really discovered the impact lawyers have in the Air Force. After sitting on multiple boards, I approached one of the lawyers and discovered the types of challenges they face. While it was initially daunting, I realized you have to work hard to accomplish something meaningful. I don't think it's coincidence that my name was randomly generated to be on these boards often — I think fate was really pushing me to discover this new goal. After a rigorous application process within the Air Force, I was finally given free rein to go wherever I wanted for school (using my military benefits), and I couldn't imagine going anywhere else.

What are your goals for the future? The program I'm in has a longer commitment, and I'm still trying to pay them back for my undergrad degree, so I'll be in the Air Force until 2027 and hopefully longer. If I feel like I can still serve in a Guard or Reserve capacity, I'm open to switching. But they'll have to practically throw me out.

Michael T. Gwinn

Hometown: Yorktown, Virginia

Education: Virginia Military Institute, majored in English literature and fine arts with a minor in French language and culture

Military experience: U.S. Army, infantry. I separated from the service as an O3 (captain).

Why did you want to serve in the military? Although I come from a military family, I joined the Army because my country was at war and I believed it to be the right thing to do as an able-bodied man.

Why did you decide to go to law school? I never really considered the Army to be a career, just a service I was providing for a few years. My time in the service affirmed that decision. While considering what I was going to do after I got out, I realized that practicing law is what would most likely make me happy, as I have always gained the most satisfaction from research, analysis and debate.

What are your goals for the future? My short-term goals are to pay off all of my student loans within five years of graduation while working as a lawyer in a firm in either D.C., Richmond or elsewhere within the Commonwealth of Virginia. (My undergraduate education was paid for through ROTC and other scholarships. I will receive partial GI Bill benefits, so I should only have to worry about a relatively small amount after law school.) Further out than that, I would like to continue in my legal career toward becoming partner at an existing firm or hanging out my own shingle while accumulating enough wealth that I could provide well for my family and engage in philanthropy. The Gwinn men have a habit of living forever and working all the way up to the funeral, and that sounds just fine to me!

Matt Johnson

Hometown: Elk River, Minnesota

Education: U.S. Naval Academy, majored in history; Old Dominion University, master’s in engineering management

Other military experience: I served for eight years as a nuclear surface warfare officer (SWO(N)). My core competency as a surface warfare officer was in the operation and mission execution of Navy surface warfare vessels during half of my career in the Navy. I served as a division officer onboard the USS San Antonio. My subsequent nuclear engineering specialty consisted of the safe operation and maintenance of two nuclear reactors onboard the USS Abraham Lincoln. Finally, I became an instructor responsible for indoctrinating all newly commissioned surface warfare officers with instruction on everything ranging from fundamentals of division officer duties to engineering and weapon systems.

Why did you want to serve in the military? This may sound clichéd, but service to this country is woven into the fabric of our nation, and I could not ignore the opportunity to embrace that. I saw an opportunity to positively impact the sailors who worked for me, the officers I worked alongside and our nation's very position in this world. From the moment I had my head shaved and my indoctrination into a military life began, I knew that service to my country was so deeply ingrained in me that I would be unable to ever sever it. As some may say: You can take the uniform off, but the reasons you wore it can never go away.

Why did you decide to go to law school? There are two parts of me that made pursuing a legal education the logical decision. First, I want skills that are beneficial to those around me. I want to be an asset both to a professional organization and to those I find in my personal life. I believe the analytical acumen and knowledge of otherwise vexing legal problems can be indispensable to those around me. Second, I have a fundamental need to take pride in what I do. I need to feel like what I'm doing is making a difference in this world. I need to feel like I am helping people to improve their own life. I believe I can have all of that as a trained legal professional.

What are your goals for the future? My goals are largely dependent on my experiences while in law school. I want to weigh my experiences in the Navy versus my experience in the private sector before making a decision. I want to see what private-sector legal work is like, hopefully in an intellectually stimulating field like intellectual property and patent law. I still want to keep open the option to return to the Navy as a Judge Advocate, as my service to this country personally needs to continue in any event. I'm excited to figure out where the legal profession will take me, because I never could've possibly imagined the road that brought me here.

Eric Reissi

Hometown: Boca Raton, Florida

Education: University of Miami, majored in political science and criminology

Military Experience: I served in the U.S. Marine Corps as an Air Defense officer from 2011 to 2016. My duties included coordinating and supervising the execution of aerial surveillance and data link operations. I deployed to Kuwait in 2013 in support of U.S. Central Command operations in the Arabian Gulf, and to Qatar from 2014 to 2015 in support of Operation Inherent Resolve.

For the past five years, I had the honor of serving with and leading some of the bravest men and women our nation has to offer. This experience has shaped me both personally and professionally, and I look forward to using the leadership skills I developed to ultimately serve the public again.

Why did you want to serve in the military? I had a strong desire to serve in the military since I was 12 years old. After our country was attacked, I realized how precious our way of life was. I wanted to become a part of something that was greater than myself. Joining the United States Marine Corps was the best choice I have made in my life.

Why did you decide to go to law school? I decided to go to law school because I want to pursue a career that will ultimately enable me to shape public policy and inspire others to serve. I believe that lawyers have a special obligation to serve their communities in some fashion because of the unique positions they are in to effect change and alter public policy.

What are your goals for the future? I am very passionate about public service, and my goal is to serve as an assistant U.S. attorney early in my career.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.