Jonathan Culpepper graduated from Howard University with a political science degree in 2013, and an internship in U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s office working on constituent services helped solidify his decision to attend law school. At Northeastern, he says working on co-op cultivated his interest in health law and serving as president of the university’s chapter of the Black Law Students Association allowed him to acquire valuable life and professional skills.
Culpepper, L’16, will graduate from the School of Law on Friday and take the bar exam this summer. Here, he reflects on his Northeastern experiences and looks ahead to his career in law.
You grew up in Boston and attended Howard University as an undergraduate. What inspired you to pursue law school and why did you choose Northeastern?
While I was studying at Howard, I took a lot of classes in political science and law. I also worked for Sen. Elizabeth Warren in the Capitol. Both experiences—taking those classes and being on the Hill talking with politicians and lawyers—led to my interest. And my dad is also an attorney. I grew up looking up to him and being around the law. I wanted to come back home for law school, and I decided upon Northeastern mainly because of the co-op program.
You’ve worked on three co-ops in Boston at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and Thornton Law Firm LLP and did a fourth co-op at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego. Collectively, what have you gained most from your co-op experiences and how have they shaped your interest in the law and career outlook?
They all concentrated on health law in a certain manner. At the U.S. attorney’s office, I did a lot of healthcare prosecutorial work. We investigated to see if big pharmaceutical companies were cheating the Medicaid and Medicare systems. At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, we defended federally funded health centers. At Rady Children’s Hospital, I worked on the general counsel team, providing legal expertise to doctors and patients and working on contracts between the hospital and vendors. And at my most recent co-op at Thornton Law Firm, we did a lot of health law-related litigation representing plaintiffs.
All of them were health law-related in different settings, which was the most beneficial thing that I got out of it because I got see health law being practiced in different settings. That was very helpful to concentrate on because I want to practice health law in the future.
Under your leadership as president of Northeastern’s chapter of the Black Law Students Association, the group won the 2016 Small Chapter of the Year Award for the Northeast Region and the Northeast Regional Chair’s Recognition for Best Overall Advocacy. How did you get involved in this group and how has your participation shaped your Northeastern experience?
As a first-year student, the group welcomed and supported me. That was a huge help in my first year. I had a mentor who was a 2L. The group gave us advice and tips on which professors to speak to and on topics we needed help with. Then during my second year, I was elected president. We really grew the chapter and collaborated with other chapters in the area. Being president was a difficult task, but we strengthened our numbers in our chapter and got more alumni involved.
As president, one of the biggest things I gained was patience, especially in terms of delegating work and working with others. My time management is another skill I improved. I also wrote for the Northeastern University Law Journal and was on the Student Bar Association, so I had to manage my time well.
You’ve been a mentor for youth at Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Roxbury and in the community more broadly. What drew you to becoming a mentor and what have you taken most from these experiences?
I grew up in the church, and my dad is also a pastor there. Growing up, I’ve always tried to mentor kids who have looked up to me. I went to a private middle school and high school. I feel I have an obligation to give back to those who didn’t have the same great opportunities I had and to help provide opportunities for them.
Do you feel that your passion for giving back to the community connects to your career interests?
I want to work in the area of health law, so I think it connects in that way in terms of being able to help others in a greater capacity.
In what ways have you grown both personally and professionally during your time at Northeastern?
I mentioned earlier that patience is one area in which I feel like I’ve grown. Resilience is another. There’s nothing that can prepare you for the amount of work you’ll have in law school. To manage all that and still do well in classes, on co-op, and in all your other obligations you need to have grit and resilience.
I’ve also grown into a more professional individual. On co-op, you learn how to handle yourself as a lawyer with the experiences you get.
What advice would you give to a law student starting at Northeastern in the fall?
My first piece of advice relates to time management. Be sure to continue your normal activities, but balance them with studying and being able to manage your time effectively. Don’t over study, but don’t over socialize either. Time management is huge, especially in your first year, because there’s so much work. Also, review your notes from your classes at the end of every week. That will be helpful when you begin to outline for finals.