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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for fall 2018 commencement. Read about more graduates.
Leo Thompson did not come to Arizona State University's Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law to become a lawyer. He already had a successful consulting business — Nuclear Solutions, LLC — in the highly specialized area of radioactive-waste cleanup. But he has always been interested in challenging himself and continuing to learn.
He was considering an MBA when he happened upon an intriguing article in the Harvard Business Review. It was about a study that found students with a background in law actually made better CEOs than students with an MBA. It piqued his interest.
“Pretty much everything I do, I recognize how the law interacts with it, whether it’s HR law, employment law, contract law, intellectual property,” said Thompson, who then began researching law schools. “I looked at a bunch of different schools. It needed to be online, because of my circumstances — I’m traveling a lot. And I wanted it to be a significant school, one with a good reputation. ASU just rose to the top of the list pretty quickly."
Specifically, ASU Law’s Master of Legal Studies (MLS) program, which is designed for working professionals just like Thompson. The program allows students to learn legal principles specific to their field of interest without actually becoming a lawyer. They can tailor the curriculum to fit their career needs, and the classes can be taken entirely online.
That flexibility was critical for Thompson, who is constantly traveling for his consulting business. In fact, that’s one of his lasting memories as an ASU Law student — the various places on the road where he completed his coursework.
“What really stands out to me when I think back are all the different locations around the country, and a few foreign places, where I took tests,” he said. “A couple weeks ago, I was in Tokyo, and I completed a property law midterm test in my hotel room. And I’ve done similar things all around the U.S. Just basically working out of hotel rooms, airports or wherever.”
Thompson was impressed by the breadth of what he learned and said he couldn’t single out any one professor, because they were all great in their own way. And he pointed out the advisers and other ASU staff members were extremely helpful, always able to assist at a moment’s notice. He found the MLS program to be “an all-around wonderful experience” and says it works for students of all ages.
“A lot of older students may be a little reluctant, thinking, ‘Oh, man, I can’t go back to school. It’s too hard, my brain stopped learning,’” said the 60-year-old Thompson. “You know, you hear those kinds of things. But I found that because I’ve been doing things in business and industry, a lot of the MLS topics were relevant, and I also had some experience in them, which made it a bit easier. So I would encourage people who have any hesitation to just jump in.”
He’s glad he did, both for what he learned and the example he set.
“I did this more as a personal challenge,” Thompson said. “I’m an older student. I’ve got four kids and now four grandkids. And I wanted to demonstrate to them that you’re never done. You’ve got to keep learning and keep pushing yourself.”