Lucky you…we have another 3L story! Today’s guest is Mikhael Bunda. I met Mikhael as a 1L. He’s got great energy and a really positive vibe. He’s someone to keep an eye on because he’s definitely going places. Remember the name.
Ali Wruble: Tell me a bit about your life and how you ended up in law school.
Mikhael Bunda: I was born in the Bay Area but we moved to the Philippines when my sister and I were very young. It was a pretty traditional Filipino household. My mom kept telling me I was going to be a lawyer. My mom was a frustrated lawyer who ended up doing business instead. It stuck with me. I went to college and studied political science. I knew I wanted to go to law school but I had no idea what it was or what lawyers did. So before going to law school I worked for over three years at a big law firm in San Francisco. I hadn’t practiced law but worked closely with legal professionals and understood the work that they did. The boss I worked with was pretty intentional about hiring recent grads who were thinking about law school. It was a good test. The people who ended up not going to law school didn’t like being at a law firm after seeing it up close.
AW: What made you come to Notre Dame?
MB: It was a combination of things. Of course, the reputation speaks for itself. I had conversations with alumni at the firm where I worked about employment prospects, OCI, geographical reach. It bats above its rank when it comes to lots of things. I went to Berkeley for undergrad which was about 40,000 students so the concept of going to a smaller school was really intriguing. And all of those factors put it at the top of the list.
AW: Did you visit before you enrolled?
MB: No! I just bit the bullet. I quit my job, traveled in Southeast Asia for three months and didn’t think about law school at all. I arrived in the US, spent about a week in California then flew to South Bend.
AW: Holy culture shock, Batman! So arrive in South Bend to start 1L year. Talk a little bit about your 1L experience.
MB: 1L by far was the toughest year of law school, in part because I had been away from a regimented school schedule for four years. So I had to relearn all of those student skills. The 1L learning curve in and of itself is incredibly hard already but then on top of that being away from school for four years and basically living an adult life. There was work then everything outside of that was my time. But coming to law school is different because there’s schoolwork and classes and your time is not yours. It belongs to the long-term goal of doing well.
AW: How was your first experience of finals?
MB: I slightly underestimated the rigor that finals required. My preparation was not conducive to doing well on finals. I tried to understand everything holistically from a 10,000-foot perspective but 1L year required digging in and digging deep. That was a contributor to the struggle. Applying the concepts that you learn to the facts at hand is the hardest part, even today. It’s the hardest component of what lawyers do.
AW: You competed in the Chapman & Cutler Transactional Competition 1L year. Tell me about your experience.
MB: That was one of the highlights of 1L year. [My two teammates and I] entered pretty late. For two or three weeks, it was all we did, just researching and writing the memo. Then there was the presentation. We bought in really hard at the beginning, and I think it showed in the work product. You don’t really get that many practical opportunities in law school outside of clinics or externships and maybe skills classes. But this was a practical substantive legal matter where we could showcase the things we had learned until that point. Our professional work experience allowed us to tailor everything to a particular audience of senior partners. And that made the work product stand apart, at least according to the feedback that we got.
AW: What did you do 1L summer and how did you get the job?
MB: A recruiter from Apple contacted a bunch of 1Ls at Notre Dame. For the corporate & real estate team, an alum was in charge so they included ND in the search with their target schools. I got the internship and, to this day, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done professionally because of the exposure, the substance and working at such a company. So it was a great overall experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
AW: You’re back as a 2L and you got to actually pick your classes. Tell me about how you approached your year.
MB: I definitely tailored 2L courses to subjects that I thought would be interesting, despite whatever my career was, and secondly, overall usefulness. I came up with a course load that I was really interested in and/or found valuable. So it was a lot easier because I took classes I really liked. I did a directed reading paper on bankruptcy which I was very interested in (even though I don’t see myself doing consumer bankruptcy). That helped me get through 2L year with less stress. I feel like 1L year you are just doing things for the sake of doing them even if you don’t find a lot of value in what you are doing. You’re just forced. There’s value in the classes, but there’s no autonomy.
AW: Did you know what you wanted to do when you came into law school, based on your work experience, or did you just wait to discover whatever was waiting?
MB: I know I wanted to do transactional work, that’s for sure. The group I worked with at the firm did corporate finance and commercial real estate finance. But specifically what in the transactional world I was open to exploring. The Apple internship opened up the opportunity to go into legal technology doing corporate and commercial work so that’s what I will end up doing after law school.
AW: And your 2L summer gig was related to that, right?
MB: Yeah, so I’m going start in-house right after graduation at Splunk. It’s a data analytics company growing at an insane rate. And especially with COVID and all of the work from home transition to digital by most companies – it’s thriving off of that. I worked with corporate & commercial attorneys, data privacy and cybersecurity attorneys and litigators. It’s a big legal team at about 60 lawyers. I don’t think it would have been possible without the Apple internship. It was remote but I was still able to build a good rapport with attorneys on the team.
AW: And how did you find out about that opportunity?
MB: It was through one of the off-campus programs. I knew one of the Splunk attorneys before the interview because I’d been introduced by an Apple attorney. My interviewer at Splunk was a Notre Dame undergrad.
AW: You participated in the Chapman competition as a 1L and you recently won an award for your bankruptcy writing, right?
MB: I wanted to do a bankruptcy paper with Professor Telloyan. He just loves to help students. I knew him from taking his intro class 1L year, and I wanted to write a consumer bankruptcy paper. So he suggested a topic and I ran with it. And it was almost fortuitous that the topic became more salient with the pandemic because it was about the “fresh start” doctrine in consumer bankruptcy. So basically, are the filers honest or opportunistic? And with the background of what is going on in the world, I think it spoke to people.
AW: Now you’re a seasoned 3L. If you were starting it all over, would you do anything differently?
MB: I’d try to connect with more upperclassmen as a 1L. I would try to meet and learn from them because we’re all in the same boat and will all be NDLS alums someday. We all belong to the same family. I know a lot of alums that are 3or 4 or 10 or 15 years out, but I didn’t really get to know a lot of the 2Ls and 3Ls when I was a 1L. At this point, if a 1L reached out to me, I am more than happy to talk with them. I feel like people love to talk about their paths and what they like/dislike about law school and what lessons they’ve learned. I didn’t take full advantage of that opportunity. I didn’t just reach out to people who I thought were doing something really cool. (Did you hear that 1Ls? Clearly, you should email him…)
AW: Given the sum of your experience, what advice would you give to current 1Ls or people considering law school?
MB: Try to still be curious about things outside of law school. Don’t forget about that part of you. Focusing on schoolwork is the priority but stay interested in other things. If you’re like sports, stay up on it so you don’t lose that side of you. This is a time to dig deep intellectually but also dig deep into your interests because who knows what the future holds. I make a point to not forget the hobbies and things I enjoy and that allow me to live a healthy life. Don’t forget about the world outside!
Thanks so much, Mikhael, for sharing your time and your story. Good luck with finals and enjoy your break!
Until you read again…