Kelsey Chase is ready to bid farewell after seven years of student life and two degrees at the University of San Diego. But, as he’s quick to point out, his USD experience is why he plans to work and live in San Diego and where he’s built strong connections.
“I’m 25 now. I’m done with the school part and I’m excited now to focus on my career,” he said. “I’m happy with the direction my life has taken these last seven years. I have great memories and I’ve made lifelong friends, but I’m ready to get started and do great things. I’m looking forward to the transition.”
That transition becomes official May 17 when he walks across the Jenny Craig Pavilion stage at USD School of Law’s commencement ceremony. Chase, who earned an undergraduate political science degree in 2011, will add Juris Doctor (JD) with a business and corporate law concentration to his Torero resume. He’ll next take a preparation course for the California Bar Exam in late July. He’s currently a law clerk in the San Diego office of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati.
“I’ve seen it now from studying law that there’s a great network out there. Thankfully, I have a job at a great law firm. There are a handful of attorneys who went to USD. The USD program is held in high regard.”
Chase said the power of the USD network, which includes fraternity ties to Lambda Chi Alpha and Associated Students — especially when he was AS President in 2010-11 — is something he truly cherishes.
“USD has a great network. I really respect the USD alumni network, which I had a lot of exposure to as an undergrad. I think that’s one reason why I wanted to earn my law degree at USD. I wanted to continue being part of this powerful network.”
He got to know USD President Mary E. Lyons, PhD, (pictured, right) worked with administrators and faculty, had a spiritual mentor in Father Owen Mullen (pictured, bottom left), and a friendly bond with USD’s Board of Trustees, particularly, James McCarthy, chairman and CEO of Gemini Consulting Group, Inc., in Chicago, who visits with Chase when he’s in town.
Though he has several mentors, that doesn’t mean he can’t stand on his own. Evidence of that came when he started law school.
“Law school is a shock to people’s individual work ethic. It’s unlike anything else. Law school, I think, really hammers that into people about how to do things on your own,” he said. “Being accountable for yourself is very important. It has given me confidence that if I encounter something different, something I’ve never seen before, I’ve got confidence to know how to approach it and deal with it.”
Some of his confidence was a carryover from Chase’s senior year as the AS President. He oversaw implementation of a major organizational structure change to a new model, new student roles and responsibilities and more accountability. The AS governing side governed and the task of organizing student events shifted to the Torero Program Board.
“Our vision was to have student government mean something on campus, for people to know what it is and to let students know what resources were available to them,” Chase said. “I think it has a stronger presence now; it has been what we wanted.”
The presidential experience enhanced his leadership skills set, too.
“It taught me that if I want to be successful, if I wanted to lead a company some day, I needed to learn the interpersonal skills it takes for the organization to be successful. When people have a leader who understands them, one who allows them to put forth their strengths, that’s when an organization does well,” he said. “It taught me about working with students who come from all different backgrounds, different cultures and lifestyles and working with people inside the university. Working with people on so many levels and, ultimately, bringing it home to represent students, that’s the type of leadership that can be transferred to any company, whether it’s government, running a law firm, whatever. Leadership is a valuable commodity that not a lot of people have.”
That commodity resurfaced often in law school. Chase took ownership of academic demands, secured diverse internship experiences and was editor-in-chief of the San Diego Journal of Climate and Energy Law.
“I think one of the main reasons I was chosen was because there needs to be a diplomatic person to deal with law students. They’re very smart, driven people and nine times out of 10, they’re not going to agree on something. Running a journal with 60 students there’s bound to be conflict. My past leadership experiences helped. There is an appreciation and an understanding that someone has to facilitate everyone’s strengths and get it going in the right direction.”
Though Chase’s work has been impressive, he appreciates the USD law faculty. Praising them for “their genuine commitment to go into a classroom and help law students do what they came here to do,” Chase specifically pointed to guidance he received from professors Frank Partnoy (corporate law) and Victor Fleischer (corporate tax).
“Partnoy really helped narrow my focus and how I was going to attack the situation and get a job in the field I wanted,” Chase said. “Fleischer, academically is one of the best tax professors in the country. He’s been an attorney in New York and has worked on Wall Street. He’s been a big help regarding my career path.”
On the Right Path
Chase certainly feels he’s on the right path. His interest in corporate law came after he had internships that gave him “the spectrum of law,” including one working for T. Boone Pickens’ natural gas company, Clean Energy Fuels.
His current job with Wilson Sonsini Goodrich and Rosati, seems a perfect fit. Chase’s desire to be a corporate law attorney is partly due to the possibility that he likely won’t spend much of his time in an actual courtroom.
“Most corporate attorneys won’t spend a day in court, it’s not what most think,” he said. “The firm I’m with now works with a lot of start-ups and entrepreneurs who are in the early stages as a company when it has fewer people and they need help getting their legal documents in line and they’re raising money,” he said. “I know a lot of my peers get jazzed to go to the courtroom and argue for clients, but I really like the business counsel role. You’re not just advising them on aspects of corporate law to be aware of, but you’re kind of partnering with them in these various ventures. The firm I’m with specializes in working with these companies. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Until Chase passes the bar exam — results won’t be known until later this year — he’ll continue to serve as a law clerk, preparing for what he knows he wants. He’s ready and eager to do it in his adopted hometown.
“When I came to San Diego I really liked it. It wasn’t much different from Orange County, but after being here for seven years, I realize this is the place I want to be, this is the place I want to start a family. I feel as I’m entering a career that is stressful and time-consuming, it makes me think ‘What better place to practice law than right here in San Diego?’”
— Ryan T. Blystone