Joey Vettiankal felt a calling to become a lawyer while working as a deputy court clerk in his hometown of Henderson, Kentucky. “I was taking a gap year to explore my career options, and my job with the Henderson County Circuit Court involved helping survivors of domestic violence file the required documents to get Emergency Protective Orders. I saw the need for accessible legal services in my own community and how difficult it was for low-income people and people from marginalized groups to access legal services,” he said. “That drove my desire to apply to law school.”
Joey wanted to attend a law school with national placement that was near home. “Nashville was always the biggest city near me, and I’d always though it would be a good place to live. And people I looked up to while I was growing up always held Vanderbilt up as the gold standard for education,” he said.
His interview with Judge Tyler Edmonds ’06 of the First Judicial Circuit of Illinois helped confirm his decision to choose VLS. “Tyler and I shared the same background of being the first in our families to go to law school, and we’re from close to the same part of the country. It was more like a conversation with a mentor than an interview. We still keep in touch, and that has meant a lot to me as part of this law school journey,” he said.
As a first-generation lawyer, Joey recalls being initially daunted by the fact that many classmates had lawyers in their families. The law school’s OneElevate program for first-generation lawyers helped him connect with other students who were the first in their families to attend law school and with two mentors: Nick Mack ’21, now an associate at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in New York, and Trey Reliford, a partner with Polsinelli in Nashville who teaches on Vanderbilt’s adjunct law faculty. “Both of my mentors were incredible and instrumental in my success my first year,” he said. “I also met one of my best friends at the law school through OneElevate.”
Joey was elected senior class president as an undergrad at Washington University, where he instituted the first Senior Day of Service, and he found an equally compelling leadership opportunity at VLS through the student chapter of American Constitution Society. As chapter president his 2L year, Joey booked prominent speakers such as former senators Russ Feingold and Doug Jones and Judge Jane B. Stranch ’78 (BA’75); the chapter was named 2023 Student Chapter of the Year by the national ACS. “ACS is where I found I had the chance to the leadership skills I learned during OneElevate and as class president in college. It allowed me to work with many groups on campus and helped me affirm that after I start practicing, I want to be able to serve my community.”
He was named a student member of the American Constitution Society Board of Directors in June 2023.
Joey plans to practice at a law firm after serving a clerkship with Judge Gregory Stivers of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky, and he touts Vanderbilt’s faculty and academic rigor. “The first year felt like drinking from a fire hose with how much I learned, and I really pushed myself,” he said. “Every professor I’ve had is so incredibly accomplished, with many at the top of their respective field. The quality of the teaching is really good, and professors care about students being successful in their class.”
He especially enjoyed his Corporations class from Professor Brian Broughman and feels well-prepared for his summer position at Skadden in Wilmington, Delaware. “The work I did in that class was applicable to what I’ll be doing this summer at my job in Delaware, and I enjoyed it because of the way it was taught by Prof. Broughman. He was approachable and gave us cases that were relevant and up to date that brought a unique element to the class.”
Joey has benefitted from Vanderbilt’s small size and collegial community. “Vanderbilt’s size allowed me to form deeper relationships with classmates and make a close group of friends. People here have lives outside of the law school,” he said.