Alex Ellman joined the U.S. Army Reserves and went to work full-time for United Parcel Service immediately after graduating from high school in Salem, South Dakota. By the time he was 24, he supervised a team of 32 UPS employees and was attending the University of South Dakota. Ellman had just been offered a job as a patrolman with the Sioux Falls Police Department when his Reserve unit was deployed to Iraq in February 2003. The police department agreed to hold his job offer until Ellman returned.
Ellman describes his 15 months in Iraq during 2003-04 as “a very formative experience—it really teaches you about leadership and integrity,” he said. When he returned to Sioux Falls, he joined the police department, where he led criminal investigations, and he finished his college degree. His exposure to criminal law in college and as a police officer whetted his interest in law school. “Being exposed to how the criminal justice system works really gave me a hunger for law school,” he said.
Ellman was attracted to Vanderbilt because of its strong academics and collegial environment, its solid reputation for job placement, and the scholarship he received. “Vanderbilt has a really strong reputation for job placement, which was one of my primary concerns,” he said. “I had also limited myself to considering only those law schools where I could graduate debt-free.” At Vanderbilt, Ellman’s educational benefits through the G.I. Bill were augmented by a scholarship specifically earmarked for military veterans, which was endowed by Vietnam veteran Tom Beasley ’73, who meets with and mentors each scholarship recipient.
At 36, Ellman is 10 years older than most students in his class. But he quickly came to respect what he describes as his classmates’ “fierce intelligence” and personal accomplishments. “The faculty and students here have such raw intellectual horsepower, it’s been one of the most humbling experiences of my life,” he said. “The students here are so intelligent and motivated—incredibly impressive people. I haven’t met anyone who doesn’t care about their career.”
While Ellman entered law school thinking he would focus on criminal law, he also discovered a strong interest in corporate law and trusts and estates. “In police work, you often find yourself between two parties who cannot resolve their differences,” he said. “Most of the time, no one leaves completely satisfied. It’s an adversarial, contentious environment. I spent last summer doing private practice work largely in trust and estate matters. Our clients were happy and satisfied with our work, and it was rewarding to be able to help them.” He particularly enjoyed taking Wills and Trusts from Professor Jeff Schoenblum, an estate planning expert. “He’s so keen and sharp-witted, and he applies his practical experience to his brilliant teaching background,” Alex said. “It’s the most interesting class I’ve taken here.”
Ellman has also found a mentor in Professor Michael Newton, a former Army officer who teaches International Criminal Law, and joined a student organization, Law Students for Veteran Affairs, that includes VLS students on active duty as well as veterans and non-military students interested in veterans’ affairs. “Professor Newton is the faculty sponsor, and he has been a great mentor,” he said. Other veterans, including Matt Downer ‘14 and Sean Mahard ’14, “have gone out of their way not only to befriend me but to show me around and offer academic and professional advice.” As a 3L, Ellman is extending the same help and advice to other veterans at VLS.
Ellman plans to return to his hometown, Sioux Falls, to practice at Lindquist & Vennum, where he served as a summer associate in 2013 and 2014. His practice will center on trust and estate matters as well as and corporate formation and litigation.