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Reflecting on the connection between being an artist and a law student

by Jessica Rotter,

David Schlieffers

David Schleiffers JD’24 has been an artist his whole life, and now he is bringing his artistic talents to his law school experience. At the age of four, Schleiffers learned how to play the piano, beginning his love of the performing arts, and by 14 he had begun dance which would lead him into a successful career. After studying dance at the University of Washington, Schleiffers moved to San Francisco where he both performed and choreographed dance. It wasn’t long before his artistic pursuits led him to a career in costume designing for drag queens across the country. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and brought with it a number political and social issues, Schleiffers was inspired to pivot his career to law school. 

“I’ve always been an artist,” he says “but with so much going on in the world I wanted to see if I could make a difference. I started looking into law school as it seemed like a way to merge my artistic inclination with the side of me that is more academically inclined.” After getting accepted to Willamette Law, Schleiffers came to Salem, OR to visit and immediately loved the vibe of the school and the idea of returning to the Pacific Northwest. The visit to campus sealed the deal, and Schleiffers quickly enrolled in law school. 

“It’s been an interesting journey for me from being an artist to starting law school. My career in the arts felt volatile during the COVID pandemic and I was inspired to put my skills and talents to use in new ways,” Schleiffers shares. He didn’t know what to expect in law school but relied on his skills as a writer and his creativity as an artist. “There is a lot more writing that is involved in being an artist than people realize, from writing grants to preparing for shows, I didn’t realize how many of my experiences would benefit me in law school,” he shares. 

There is an artistic side to the law, Schleiffers offers, where you need to think creatively and come up with new ways to approach ideas. “It isn’t as black and white as some might think and being an artist has allowed me to become a better law student and, soon, a strong lawyer,” he says. Schleiffers is fully embracing this new career path and has his eye on practicing commercial litigation. He credits his interest in commercial law to both his inclination to work on complex cases and the impact of his Academic Excellence Fellow Olivia Courogen JD’22. Courogen served as a resource and guide and Schleiffers learned more about what larger law firms look for in attorneys. 

He also relied on the Office of Career Planning and Development (OCPD) to guide him through pursuing a career in commercial litigation. “The OCPD staff helped me learn how to interview at law firms, something I had no prior experience with. The ‘big law’ interviews were long and intense but I was able to fall back on my artistic background of auditioning and being able to put myself out there on stage,” Schleiffers says. 

As for other highlights during law school, the First Year Appellate Competition (FYAC) is top of mind for Schleiffers. The FYAC involves first-year students writing an appellate brief or a motion in conjunction with their Lawyering class; the Moot Court Board then hosts FYAC where the students present oral arguments based on their submission. The experience got Schleiffers out of his comfort zone and allowed him to see what it takes to be a lawyer. “In my past experience with performing, everything I did was scripted and well-rehearsed. As a lawyer you have to think on your feet and it’s one of the most important skills. It was terrifying at first, but it helped me develop my confidence and skills as a lawyer,” he says. Moot Court, as a whole, has been a highlight for Schleiffers and he has been grateful for the opportunities it has presented. 

David Schleiffers and Mohamad Schaer
David Schleiffers JD'24 and Moot Court partner, Mohamad Schaer JD'24 during the 2022 National Appellate Advocacy Competition

That said, it is the community that Schleiffers has found both within law school and in the larger legal community that has been integral to his experience. Willamette, he notes, has a unique reputation for students supporting one another, and faculty supporting students — a characteristic of the school which is not always a given at other law schools. In particular, Schleiffers is grateful for the leadership and impact of Mohamad Shaer JD’24. After serving on SBA together, Schleiffers has learned from and been impacted by Shaer’s leadership and dedication to bettering both the law school and the community. “He has inspired me and his leadership skills have made me want to participate and be a leader myself. I am just grateful to him.”  

As he looks forward to spending the summer working for an international law firm in Portland, Schleiffers is grateful for the community and the opportunities found at Willamette. In considering what advice he would give to people considering law school, he offers “anything worth obtaining is worth the challenge. If you want to be a lawyer, with a bit of hard work you can achieve it.” 

After law school, Schleiffers hopes to stay in the Pacific Northwest along with his cat Pete–who can play fetch–and his bearded dragon Moira. Professionally, he hopes to work in litigation and participate in pro bono work at the appellate level. And personally, he hopes to maintain a strong connection with his family and friends. Schleiffers will begin his externship with the Oregon Office of the Appellate Commissioner in late August. 

About Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

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