This fall, Western State College of Law welcomed alumnus Stephen Hendricks back to campus, this time as an assistant professor on the tenure track. Assistant Professor Hendricks most recently served as vice president of legal affairs and general counsel of a financial services company in Orange County. In this role, he oversaw all corporate legal matters as well as managed the organization’s intellectual property, litigation, risk management and corporate governance activities. He also drafted and reviewed contracts and provided advice and counsel on dispute resolution.
Despite having worked in a corporate setting before attending law school, Hendricks credits a lot of his success to the great professors at Western State. They brought to the classroom real-world experience in business law and were able to show him the connection between the seemingly separate functions of a business and how each department’s operation presents potential legal issues (and pitfalls). His time at Western State also taught him to speak the “language” of C-suite executives in a way that helped position him post-graduation to successfully resolve corporate legal issues and help businesses grow.
His experience at Western State, and its reputation as a strong contributor to the legal profession and to producing first-class lawyers, made him interested in giving back to the legal community and helping to develop the next generation of attorneys. We had the opportunity to connect with him for an in-depth Q&A to learn more about his passion for law, the courses he teaches and why he is proud to work for his alma mater.
What sparked your interest to pursue a law degree?
When I was in high school, I participated in a mock impeachment trial for President Nixon in my U.S. government class, and I found it incredibly fascinating. My teacher assigned me the role as one of Nixon’s defense lawyers, and he noticed my natural skill and ability to develop arguments and use logic in my statements. From that point, I always had an interest in pursuing a career in law. After earning my undergraduate degree, life took me on a few different paths for several years before I finally decided to enroll in law school.
What courses do you teach at Western?
Prior to being hired full-time, I had been an adjunct professor at Western State for five years teaching Business Associations and Principles of Agency and Partnership. I continue to teach Business Associations to 2Ls and 3Ls, and this past fall, I also started teaching Contracts to 1Ls.
How did your experience in the real world impact your teaching curriculum and style?
Working in a corporate setting has informed my teaching style and inspired me to create a cooperative environment that encourages a diversity of opinions. I am fortunate that I not only have the opportunity to teach my students but learn from them as they provide their perspectives and share more about their life experiences.
What advice do you give to students taking your classes?
Be prepared, diligent and thorough, but also have fun. Learning the law is challenging, but it is very rewarding. I believe that learning is more effective and lasting when we have fun along the way.
One of your goals is to inspire law students to reach their highest potential and to promote diversity and equity in the legal profession. Can you share how you are committed to helping support Western State’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts and promote them in your classroom.
I love that Western State is recognized as one of the most diverse law schools in the country. Through diversity of opinions, cultures and viewpoints, we can achieve the ultimate goal of justice and equality for all. Our law school is committed to this, and I am proud to help support this mission. In my classroom, I promote these ideals by ensuring all my students feel heard, everyone’s opinion and views are valid and important and deserve equal opportunity to be heard. I remind my students that it’s through understanding each other that we can understand how the law best advances our society in positive ways.
What do you think sets Western State apart from other law schools?
Western State’s diversity in its student body, but also within its faculty and staff is one of the key differentiators. I am also proud of the well-qualified and smart students, many of whom will be first-generation lawyers, and some are even first-generation college students. Western State also has a unique learning environment where students have direct, meaningful access to their professors, which is not common at other law schools. It also has a strong reputation and is the longest running law school in Orange County, Calif. with over 15,000 alums.
Any last advice for current or prospective law students?
Love not only the law, but how it works, lives and breathes. It is one thing to be interested in the ends of the law: how it helps people and society, but you must also love the law itself. Find what you love most about the law and that will help guide where you end up in your career.
When he is not in the classroom, Assistant Professor Hendricks takes advantage of Western State’s ideal location in Southern California and its proximity to beaches to surf as well as to enjoy outdoor activities like hiking and traveling to the mountains. He is also licensed in Minnesota and loves getting back there to spend time on the lakes and in the forests. You can also find him attending live sporting events to watch ice hockey, soccer and baseball as well as enjoying his personal hobbies, which include music, photography and home renovation projects.