For Justin Wales, the future looks rosy. After graduating from a stellar career at Miami Law, he will begin working as an associate at the Russo Appellate Firm in Miami.
But Wales' personal history belies the success on his résumé. When he was a teenager, he and his mother struggled for a time with serious financial challenges and had difficulty obtaining adequate food and housing. "We were very poor," he recalled.
And yet he managed to graduate magna cum laude from the University of California at San Diego, and received a Provost Honors Award in History.
At UM, he worked on the Federal Appellate Clinic and the Legal Aid Society; was a research assistant for Professor Kunal Parker; and spent a summer as an associate at Smith, Currie & Hancock – all while making the Dean's List and writing and serving as Senior Notes and Comments Editor for the University of Miami Law Review.
Wales – a bespectacled, dark-haired young man with an easy smile and an air of sincerity, who has known the woman who became his wife, Eva, since he was 15 years old – seems well suited for a career in civil appeals and trial support, even as his eclectic interests continue to keep him entertained.
"Originally I wanted to get a Ph.D. in history and pursue an academic career," Wales said. "My senior year of college, I wrote a very extensive paper about cross-dressing soldiers in the Civil War. I spent all my time with it and became completely fascinated with it. I sent a copy to my mom and six months later it was still unread and no one cared about it."
Even so, Wales had discovered some skills, particularly writing and research, that enabled him not only to master law school but, he said, "will also allow me to work on things that are actually relevant to people."
In law school, he once wrote a paper about foreign seamen who sail from American ports on ships flying foreign flags and the terrible conditions to which they are exposed.
Wales' extracurricular pastimes have also spanned a wide range. Eight years ago, he posted a "terrible, lo-fi indie music" song on MySpace. "It kind of got some traction," he said. "I got an email from a radio station in South Korea saying it was the number 1 most requested song that week."
Sing a few bars, he was asked. "That would not be allowed," Wales replied with a smile. "It's silly and embarrassing."
Dennis O. Lynch, Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law, described Wales as an "innovative" law student who looks out for others.
"He is drawn to a lot of social issues, and how the law operates in a real context where people can be deprived of their rights," Professor Lynch said. "He is interested in a wide variety of issues that go far beyond the law."