John Hill graduated from Baylor in 2004 with a BA in Political Science and Russian in the Honors College. He was a Harry S. Truman Scholar. He then attended Harvard Law School. After his graduation in 2007, he clerked for US District Court Judge Xavier Rodriguez, where he managed large civil and criminal dockets while helping research, draft, and edit the Court's orders. From 2008 to 2011, he worked as an attorney in Vinson & Elkins, LLP. Today, he works in the United State Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia as an Assistant United States Attorney in the National Security Section. He prosecutes terrorism, espionage, and export violation cases, working with the intelligence community and federal law enforcement agencies.
What is your best advice to current pre-law students about the LSAT, law school applications, and undergraduate work as a pre-law student?
On the LSAT: “Take it seriously. Take as many practice tests as you can. Unlike other tests, the LSAT is not knowledge-based, but skills-based and you can get better at it in time. The more you practice, the better your score will be. Give it the time it deserves.
Grades matter. Do your best in your classes. Challenge yourself. Take the stuff you’re interested in – don’t just take classes you think will be more likely to give you a good grade! One, you’ll do better in those classes, and two, they will help you figure out what you want to do as a a lawyer. What are your interests and how do you want to use your law degree?
What is your best advice for recent graduates who are about to enter law school? How do you succeed?
Enjoy it. Law school can be a lot of fun if you don’t stress about it. It’s definitely a different environment, but can be a lot of fun. You’ll meet a lot of interesting people.
My advice is GET INVOLVED. Find stuff that interests you. Most importantly, do clinicals. There’s a lot of pressure to do journals or law reviews – there’s a certain prestige factor and an assumption that they’re necessary for the jobs you want. That may be different depending on where you go to law school. Don’t feel pressured to do something you don’t want to do. Everyone, I recommend, should do a clinical. Clinics are opportunities to put into practice what you’re learning. It won’t make sense until you start applying it. It gives you a chance to be mentored – there will never be another time where people are paid to help you figure out what you’re doing – full time professors who are passionate about the work and are passionate about mentoring you and building you up as a better lawyer.
Regardless of what type of law you’re doing, get hands on experience. It’ll connect you with your community, it’ll make you feel like you’re doing something important, and help you feel like a real lawyer.
In 2010, you received a firm-wide pro-bono award at Vinson & Elkins. What would you say the significance of pro-bono work is (especially as Christians)?
People go to law school for all kinds of different reasons, but one important reason is that law school trains you with a set of skills to help others. You can do that in a thousand different ways. Pro Bono is our obligation as legal professionals to use our legal skills to help out other people. It’s particularly important in the private sector – it can sometimes feel (depending on what you’re doing) disconnected from a greater mission or purpose. Pro Bono is a way to stay grounded and tethered to that greater purpose. Pro Bono is private sector attorneys who are billing and making the marketplace work but want to help individuals. It makes you feel more satisfied as a lawyer.
When you were at Baylor, what activities, clubs or internships helped you in your application process to law school and finding solid community?
Student Government was pretty critical to my time at Baylor. Many of my friends were in it, and it helped me get connected to my community.
Academic work – more applied classes, smaller, seminar-like, more personal with professors – enabled me to engage in figuring out how my academic interests merged with the needs of society, which is a lot of what politics and law is about – how your skillset can be employed to helping those around you.
I was involved in a program in One Book One Waco, which connected me to the community. Same as true in law schools with clinicals – allowing you to merge your life into your community’s life while you’re a student makes it easier to figure out when you’re no longer a student. Finding some way to connect your academic interests with the needs of your community. Harvard Christian Fellowship.
How does your faith factor into your work as an attorney? How would you encourage Christian pre-law students to enter the field of law and law school?
Baylor does its job right by helping you figure out your values are and grounds you in them so that they’ll continue to be a guiding force in your life after you leave. Law school is a different environment, when you’re not living in a Christian campus in an explicitly Christian place. For me, what drives a lot of underlying-sense-of making a difference, use my skillset in a way that is meaningful to others, is my life. It motivates you as a lawyer. You got to a law school that affords you various options, and you have skills that are very profitable and some that are less profitable but give you a better chance to make a difference. I’m not trying to say that there’s a clear path for everyone, or that public sector or private sector is better. It’s about motivations. Much of my desire to be in public service now is driven by my faith.
What are books that have significantly impacted your life (besides the Bible)?
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s about someone who takes their job extremely seriously and dedicates his life to that work. He sacrifices a lot in his personal life, and comes to the realization later on in life that perhaps some of the things he was dedicated to were misplaced. He realizes he can’t relive that, but what he can live is what he still has in front of him – the remains of his day.
Regardless of what you’ve done in your life up till now or what changes you’d make in your life; you still have what lies in front of you; the remains of your day. It’s a reminder to find out what you need to prioritize in your life and why? As a lawyer, there will be a lot of demands on your time. Think about it from a perspective of; down the road, what will I have considered to be a meritorious way of spending my life? It might change how you prioritize the parts of your life. Make time and space for the things that matter to you. Prioritize. Take pause and take inventory.