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Service minded: Vets chose law careers after service

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Attorney Scott Allen Jr. was a freshman in college at the time of the 9/11 attacks.

Aside from happening about five hours from where he grew up in the Syracuse area, the attacks hit close to home personally. He considered enlisting and, after discussing it with a friend, settled on the Marines.

“Serving back then was pretty popular,” said Allen, senior associate at Lippes Mathias Wexler Friedman LLP. “People were often talking about it and thinking about it. … It was just something that I was very interested in doing.”

He had thought about a career in law, too. An officer told him he could do both in the military.

He went on to serve and later graduated from the University of Maryland School of Law.

Following that, Allen was a prosecutor with the Marines, an assistant U.S. Attorney and transitioned to private practice in 2018 at the Buffalo firm. He will be promoted to major this summer as a Marine Reserve in a ceremony at Lippes Mathias.

“I found one of the most effective leadership styles was to be kind and to listen and be a little bit more of a mentor than a yeller,” Allen said he learned through service.

Other area attorneys carried similar mantras with them as they made their path from the military to law, including Keli Iles-Hernandez, counsel at HoganWillig and Anthony Kuhn, managing partner in Tully Rinckey PLLC’s local office.

Time in the military taught her to work under pressure.

“I had a pretty good work ethic,” she said. “(The military) made it even stronger going that extra distance.”

Iles-Hernandez has had a few careers, the latest of which is family law attorney.

“Who knows what I’ll do next,” she joked.

Iles-Hernandez served four years in the Army and later became a special-education teacher before deciding to attend law school years later.

“I was needing some sense of direction at the time,” she recalls of her decision to join the Army.

When she enlisted, she chose medic from an array of choices because it seemed like the most logical way to help others.

“The medic is the first line of medical treatment,” she said.

Iles-Hernandez said that in a lot of ways, the job is similar to being a nurse because of the many tasks required. Some days you may be asked to assist a physician and on others you may draw blood or help a patient through trauma.

She later had a daughter and wrapped up her military career. Again, she was unsure of a direction and decided to become a special-ed teacher, where she worked with children in foster care.

“That drew me into going into family-law legal work,” she said. “I like the personal aspect of it and that I’m able to help people.”

In counseling clients, Iles-Hernandez said she assists them through difficult times such as through a divorce or custody battle.

The Army taught her to be disciplined, to stay focused and to see things through, which she said is a good foundation for her career as an attorney.

Anthony Kuhn

Kuhn said there wasn’t a more perfect firm for him to land at than Tully Rinckey.

The Albany-based firm has an office here and one of its specialties is serving military clients in various areas of litigation.

“I found this firm right after law school and this is the only firm I ever even applied to,” he said.

As a 35-year-old, Kuhn had a later start than most to a legal career. But that didn’t deter him from advancing his practice in multiple areas and making the ascent to managing partner of the local office in less than a decade.

He came to law after exiting active duty in the Army. For several years he ran his own construction company but found that injuries sustained while serving made it difficult to be on his feet for 40-plus hours a week.

“I have a shoulder injury. I have a knee injury. I did suffer a (brain injury) when I was hit with a roadside bomb (in Iraq). All those things added up and the physical exertion that it took to be up and down a ladder all day doing all the physical work was just too much,” he said. “I basically had to start from scratch and went back to school.”

Kuhn joined the Army initially as an escape.

“I didn’t have the traditional family life,” he said. “For me, (joining the military) was an opportunity to get out and make my own path.

“I wasn’t going to college (at the time). I didn’t have a parent to talk to me about college, so the military was something that I settled on very young. I knew that it was my way to start my own life and I had to get away from everything.”

He completed high school at 17 and enlisted. Kuhn was deployed on a pair of tours overseas as a tank operator. Upon completion, he returned home in 2000, got married and started a family.
Following 9/11, he was approached to enter the Army Reserve and became a drill sergeant and combat engineer and had other roles.

During his time at home, he earned a college degree and went to law school when he realized that construction was no longer an option.

“(Becoming) a lawyer didn’t really seem like a route I would ever take,” he said.

Kuhn looked for solutions that would make him employable in any capacity. His college degree was in criminal justice and a career as an attorney felt like a good match.

“It made me uniquely situated to represent small businesses because I owned one,” he said. “Now I’m an attorney and I understand the law and I also understand what it’s like to try to build that business, have employees and deal with the stressors. … It has worked out.”

Scott Allen

At Lippes Mathias, Allen assists businesses with internal investigations and enjoys the similar-yet-different change of pace from criminal prosecution.
“I like the new challenge for me but, believe it or not, it’s a lot of the same skill set,” he said.

When he started his legal career with the Marines, sexual assault cases in the Armed Forces were prevalent. He handled many cases in the realm and it served as a good background when he was hired in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

There, he handled child-exploitation cases and coordinated with attorneys in other districts to discuss issues they faced and best practices they could collectively use in the cases.
He was mentored by U.S. Attorney James Kennedy.

“Everyone (in the U.S. Attorney’s Office) has a similar mindset to (what I saw) in the Marine Corps in that it’s another way to serve (your country),” Allen said.

Dennis Vacco, a partner at Lippes Mathias and former U.S. Attorney and New York attorney general, recruited Allen to the firm.

“At the time (Vacco offered the job), going to private practice had never really crossed my mind,” Allen said.

Civil law is clear-cut and offers a chance to be an advocate as an attorney, he said, adding, “Life is a little more gray. It’s not as black and white.”

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