Scott J. Wright on finding his legal voice, serving family and country

Scott Wright, JD '19, and family
I never thought that less than one year out of law school, I would be helping draft and publish a federal law with such broad ramifications.
Scott Wright, JD '19

Less than one year after receiving his JD, Scott Wright holds the prestigious Presidential Management Fellow position with the United States Department of Defense in Washington, DC.  

The Presidential Management Fellow is a two-year program that allows the participants to work for several different federal agencies.  A fellow can conduct up to four six-month rotations with four different federal agencies.  He has been working as a policy analyst with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) since September 2019.

Prior to law school, Wright spent his entire career serving as an Infantry Officer in the US Army from 2010 to 2016.  He went straight from high school to the US Military Academy at West Point.  Wright graduated from West Point in 2010 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army.

During his senior year at West Point, cadets were required to take a Constitutional Law and Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) class. Wright says that he really enjoyed learning about the law, as well as the history and reasoning behind the law. He also wanted to attend law school because he wanted to continue to serve his community and his country after active service. He didn’t necessarily want to be an attorney, but his thought was that having a law degree would help make him a better civil servant. 

“Serving in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan were defining experiences in my life, and my time at war only strengthened my resolved to go to law school,” said Wright, who rose to the rank of Captain.  “I saw and experienced both the very best and the very worst parts of human nature during my time in combat.  I saw what happens when there is a breakdown of law and order, when the rule of law is no longer respected.”

These experiences convinced Wright that attending law school would better enable him to serve his country and his community. He chose to attend the University of Oregon because of the beautiful location, its proximity to family, and the generous scholarship that the law school offered.  Wright says that the full scholarship that he received was given regardless of his class rank and it was critical to his time as a law student - especially with a young family to care for.

Wright recently spoke to Oregon Law about the ups and downs of his legal journey and why perseverance is so important when it comes to success.

You currently work with the Department of Defense (DoD). How did you find out about it and how did you prepare for it?

I attended an informational session sponsored by the career center in the fall of my 1L year.  The informational session was all about the Presidential Management Fellowship, which I had barely even heard of at that time.  After attending that briefing, it became my goal to be accepted into the PMF program when I graduated in 2019.  The career counselors helped me achieve this goal, and I couldn’t have done it without their help.  They worked with me on a monthly basis, from my 1L year until graduation. 

What are your duties in your current role as a Presidential Management Fellow?

I have been working as a policy analyst with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) since September 2019.  The DPAA’s mission is to locate and recover the remains of US servicemembers from our Nation’s past conflicts, who are still on the missing/unaccounted for list.  There are currently  over 80,000 US servicemembers from WWII, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and other past conflicts whose remains have not been recovered.  It is a great honor for me to work at the DPAA and help reunite families with the remains of their fallen servicemembers.  It hits especially close to home for me as a combat veteran, as six of my good friends from the Army were killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.    

What are some of the other duties that you have as a policy analyst? 

I am currently tasked with helping draft and publish a Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI), which is a form of federal law.  This DoDI sets the policies and procedures for accounting for missing personnel from past conflicts, for the entire Department of Defense.  It also establishes coordination and cooperation with the Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, other US government agencies, and the governments of foreign countries.  I never thought that less than one year out of law school, I would be helping draft and publish a federal law with such broad ramifications.  I am very grateful for my legal education in helping me draft and publish this document, but I am particularly glad that I had Professor Rowe as my Legal Research and Writing (LRW) instructor.  Professor Rowe is a wonderful teacher, who is truly dedicated to teaching her students valuable skills for law school and for life.  I would not be able to confidently work on this project without the valuable skills and lessons I learned in Professor Rowe’s class.  Thank you, Professor Rowe!    

What activities or organizations were you involved with at Oregon Law?

I was a member of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association (APALSA).  I also volunteered for the Access the Law for Veterans Clinic, helping provide free legal services to veterans in the local community.  I also worked with local Eugene attorney, Mr. Bryan Boender. He is an Army veteran, and we even served in the same job in the Army as infantryman during overlapping time periods and in some of the same places, such as Afghanistan. Working with veterans at Access the Law and for Mr. Boender reminded me of the things that I missed about serving in the military.  These experiences also were valuable because they showed me a little bit about different jobs and specialties within the legal profession, and which of these areas would interest me, as well as family considerations. 

How did you prioritize having a family during and after law school?

My daughter, Naomi, was born in the summer after my 1L year, so a very important consideration for me when picking jobs is balancing my job/career with family time.  I want to always do my very best to spend as much time with my family as I can.  Although I didn’t learn this lesson from any one activity or clinic in law school, I did learn it during my time in law school as a whole.  I must always place my family first, above my career.  Always.

In what ways did you utilize the Center for Career Planning and Professional Development’s services as a student?

The Center was invaluable to me during law school.  Everyone was so helpful, professional, supportive - and essential to my success during and after law school.  My first meeting with the career center was during the fall of my 1L year, and they helped me tailor my resume to specific job announcements and gave me multiple mock interviews that were extremely helpful.  The Center also helped connect me with Mr. Bud Fitzgerald and Mr. Bryan Boender, who were both Army veterans and practicing attorneys in Eugene.  Mr. Fitzgerald and Mr. Boender would become two my greatest mentors in law school and as attorneys.  During my 3L year, I served as a law clerk for Mr. Boender assisting him with a manslaughter trial. 

If you could give advice to the class of 2020 – what would it be?

I hardly feel qualified to give anyone advice, but I would just say that for me, perseverance has been a recurring theme in my life.  I was in the bottom half of my West Point class, my law school class, and I’m sure if they gave out grades in Ranger School, I would have been in the bottom half of that class too.  But I never quit.  Always finish the race.  It doesn’t matter what place you get.  Just finish the race.   

By Rayna Jackson, School of Law Communications