‘I owe it to my brother’
Putting it simply, Jae Pak says it “made sense” for him to attend The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. But after one hears the story of how Pak came to be a Buckeye, it’s clear that sentiment weighed heavily in the 1L’s decision.
“My brother was going to go here.”
A couple months before he was set to enter his first year at Ohio State, Pak’s brother passed away in Hudson, Ohio’s 100-year flood in 2003. That same year Pak received the Ohio Senator Award for Outstanding Heroism for his efforts to save his brother, who was saving an elderly neighbor in the flood.
“I was close. But I failed,” Pak said. “I ended up in the hospital, and my brother and the other man never made it out.”
Pak was 16, his brother 18, when the heavy rainfall flooded the basement garage at his family’s apartment complex. His brother and the elderly neighbor were trapped.
“They both made it to the door leading to a stairway to the first floor, but the door was shut. There was too much pressure built up from the water to pull it open,” he said.
Once Pak reached the bottom of the stairwell, he was up to his chin in water infused with electric currents. He made a split-second decision to get out of the danger.
“By the time I got out of the water, I couldn’t hear my brother or the man. They felt the current too, and eventually drowned,” Pak said. “That was rock bottom for me.”
But now he says of the tragedy, “It really defines who I am and how I approach my life.”
Pak said he needed to get away. He decided to get a fresh start at University of Michigan, where he studied engineering.
While an undergraduate, Pak started working for Lockheed Martin Corp. in 2008 at the company’s Moorestown, N.J., location. Beginning as an intern, he landed a full-time position after graduating in 2009 as a communications systems engineer, working primarily with the U.S. Coast Guard. He was later promoted to a deputy lead systems engineer, and by that time he started second-guessing his career choice.
“I wasn’t interested in engineering. In undergrad I made the decision that I was really good with math and science, so I went into engineering. But I didn’t like it,” Pak said. “It’s a very rewarding job and all, but I wanted to do more. … I had always thought about going to law school.”
Pak said Moritz was a standout prospect for him – even if it meant he’d make heads turn when he traipsed around Drinko Hall in clothes from his alma mater.
“I had Professor Cole call on me one time because I was wearing a Michigan shirt,” he said, laughing. “(But) Ohio State made sense to me knowing that my brother was going to go there – in-state tuition helped, too.”
Crediting his time at Lockheed as an influence for him to focus on intellectual property law, Pak said what he hopes to gain from lawyering is to work with a range of clients rather than just the government and to continue dealing with technology.
He also said some of his engineering background has proven to be helpful in studying the law.
“In terms of my work ethic, I don’t really struggle with that aspect of (law school),” he said. “Putting in the time is not really an issue with me. It’s just a matter of a different way of understanding the material because not everything is objective.”
Technical writing as an engineer, Pak said, also has proven to be beneficial for legal writing. The reading is completely different though, he said.
“Engineering was tough, and law school can be challenging at times, but my past experiences have really helped me get through adverse situations,” Pak said.
Almost a decade after his brother passed, Pak has gained perspective from his loss.
“He’s been my source of motivation ever since and a big reason why I decided to go to law school,” Pak said. “I really feel like I owe it to my brother to live my life for the both of us.”
This article was written by Sarah Pfledderer.