Cooper Findlay, JD '16

Common Law, Uncommon Lawyer

As a child, Cooper Findlay saw lawyers as community protectors. Now he's proving his vision wasn't just kid stuff.

If you want to know what kind of lawyer Cooper Findlay will be, ask him why he came to law school in the first place.

He'll tell you about his mother, who was told she couldn't go to school because she was born with only one hand. He'll tell you about how she was picked on and about how his grandmother had to fight to enroll her in classes.

And then he'll explain how the 1990 passage of the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which outlawed discrimination based on disability, changed her life and the lives of 57 million other Americans.

“I always heard stories from my mom,” he says. “And with the ADA, I saw how the law could be ahead of the morality of society and push it forward.”

There's a real sense of community here. Professors really care about the students, and you see their passion of teaching and for the profession. Looking out for one another translates into our work outside of the School of Law too.

Cooper dreamed of being a public interest attorney the way other boys dream of being astronauts or firefighters, and so after college, there was no question what was next. He chose USF School of Law because he knew it would help him become the kind of lawyer he hoped to be.

“In any legal education you're going to get the basic groundwork of what you need to know, but USF is well-known for producing lawyers that actually have tangible impacts on the community.”

Cooper has already used what he's learned to make a difference. Through USF's Criminal and Juvenile Justice Law Clinic, he represented clients charged with misdemeanors such as theft, trespassing, and assault and battery. He represented them through the entire judicial process, making court appearances from arraignment through trial.

“It's a little nerve-wracking, but it's also really rewarding,” he says. “A lot of them haven't had someone stable in their lives, and you're their advocate during one of the hardest parts of their lives.”

Last summer, Cooper interned with the 15th Judicial District Public Defender's Office in Lafayette, La. The experience was eye-opening.

“I saw really terrible poverty and racial discrimination. The police had been brought down on corruption charges, and I saw people coming through the justice system on a conveyer belt.”

His workload included assisting defense attorneys in a death penalty case. Working in the public defender's office crystallized something for Cooper: he decided to become a public defender. This summer, after taking the bar exam, Cooper will work as a post-bar clerk for the Solano County Public Defender.

“USF has given me real skills so that I can be an attorney that my community and clients can be proud of,” Cooper says. Just as important, he can be the type of attorney that helped his mom and millions of disabled Americans those many years ago.

In any legal education you're going to get the basic groundwork of what you need to know, but USF is well-known for producing lawyers that actually have tangible impacts on the community.”

Cooper Findlay