For most Americans, especially working adults who are raising families, going to law school is literally out of reach because of one five-digit data point—the zip code. Today, the vast majority of brick-and-mortar law schools are concentrated around urban centers, leaving tens of millions of prospective law school students interested in learning and practicing the law in the lurch and out of luck.
Meet Chris Wojtowicz who lives and works in Frederic (zip code 54837), a small village with about 1,100 residents in northwest Wisconsin that swells to more than 10,000 in the summer months thanks to tourism.
A graduate of Minnesota State University Mankato (business administration) in 1990, Chris has spent the better part of his professional life in the import-export business.
“I worked for 10 years with my sister and her husband in a family-owned business importing wine, which is subject to numerous government regulations, from all over the world.”
For the last several years, Chris has been an Import Export Coordinator at an international manufacturer and distributor of weight-related products and process-control equipment where his primary responsibilities center around being the go-to subject matter expert on all import and export trade compliance activities and inquiries.
“The import and export trade is heavily regulated and governed by almost 40 U.S. government agencies who all promulgate their own rules that are written in hieroglyphics and Greek. So being able to decipher and interpret all the legalese and understand the rules and regulations’ practical implications on your business—or client’s business—is a very important skill to have, especially if you’re working in areas such as compliance, like me.”
Like a lot of mid-career professionals, Chris started to rethink what he wanted to do next with his life.
“I got passionate about rebranding a few years ago. I am 50 years old. So the question is how does someone who is middle aged rebrand or reinvent themselves? You do it by adding value. Being a licensed customs broker is the top of the line in my work so the next logical step would be an attorney. In order to stand out I would need a legal education.”
A married father of five grown children and a young daughter, Chris decided that going back to school—law school—was his path forward. However, living and working in a small, remote town limited his choices.
“Going to a brick-and-mortar law school was not possible. The closest one was in Minneapolis, which is about 90 minutes away. So driving three hours a day minimum, working a minimum of eight or nine hours a day, plus devoting time to my family including my young daughter not to mention my studies, it just wasn’t possible. Concord was. That is the beauty of the school. It gave me the opportunity to actually do this.”
Chris enrolled in Concord in 2012 and credits his wife for helping him stick with it.
“I finished my undergraduate degree years ago and honestly, I wasn’t the best at studying back then…so getting back into the swing of studying was a struggle. My wife found articles and outside resources that I used to catch up and focus. I still have her handwritten note outlining 8 key steps specifically for law students. When I got down or questioned myself, she would keep saying ‘You’ve got to stick with this. Do whatever it takes to make this happen.’”
He says that self-discipline is key.
“You have to have discipline. Going to Concord is not for slouches. For me, when 8 pm rolled around it was time to study. At midnight, it was time to get some sleep and then 6 am comes [and] it is time to get ready for work.”
Chris graduated from Concord Law School in February 2017, earning his EJD degree.
What’s next for Chris?
“I plan to start a consultancy practice offering my talents to small- and medium-sized enterprises who otherwise would not be able to hire or attract the talent necessary to keep up with the fast-paced legislation and regulation of international business. I plan to also provide pro bono work for veterans in my community through a nonprofit agency and have strongly considered immigration law as a complement to my business. Our community has a lot of people from Somalia so the culture shock of living in Wisconsin, especially in the winter, is no walk on the beach. No one is here to help them.”