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Navy SEAL Chooses Law as a Second Career

Josh Butner

“Believe it or not, my heroes have always been lawyers.”

Spring 2019 start, 1L student Josh Butner acknowledges his preceding statement sounds like a bad country song—but he insists it’s true.

“Mahatma Gandhi was a lawyer who peacefully freed an entire nation by using the law to highlight the hypocrisy of the governing power.”

Butner enlisted in the Navy having dropped out of college after his Freshman year. He wanted to challenge himself in a unique way while serving his country. “I got my wish,” he says. “I trained to be a medic and made it through the Navy's SEAL program. I was the youngest guy in my team at the age of 19.”

As a Navy SEAL, Butner completed combat tours in the first Gulf War in 1990, Somalia in 1992, and later applied his SEAL training to similar tours in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Retiring from the Navy after 23 years, Butner went to work for a dive equipment manufacturing company founded by French underwater explorer and environmentalist, Jacques Cousteau.

Driving to work one day, he caught an NPR report that not enough people in certain communities were running for local school boards—his local school district being one of them. So, in typical style, he decided to do something about it.

“I felt I didn't have a choice,” Butner recalls. “So I decided to run for my local school board—the Jamul Dulzurra Union School District.” Butner won one of two openings and still serves on the school board to this day.

Resigning from his dive equipment job, Butner turned his attention to politics. He ran for Congress in 2018 but lost in the primary. “That was an incredible experience, and even though I lost, it steeled my determination to go to law school. I wanted to support our institutions of democracy at a time when they seemed to be under attack.”

Butner wanted to stay in San Diego, and when he had looked into law schools in 2011, he discovered that California Western had a strong reputation in public service law.

“I liked the fact that Cal Western was a stand-alone institution with a singular focus on educating law students,” says Butner. “More importantly, I had heard that Cal Western graduates were better prepared to start practicing law after graduation than graduates from many other schools.”

As a former military man, there was one more fact that cemented Josh Butner’s decision to come to California Western. “I discovered that in 2006 the leaders of the Navy JAG, Marine Corps JAG, and Army JAG Corps respectfully, were all California Western alumni and were all serving at the top of their fields at the same time,” reveals Butner. “This was unprecedented in the military.”

It’s early days for Butner in his journey through California Western, but he can already see the benefits of being there with regard to preparation for practice. “I'm the incoming President of Cal Western's Military Veteran's Legal Society, and we are already working closely with legal service organizations in the community,” says Butner. “Students are receiving directly translatable legal practice skills by working with these organizations through the on-campus club.”

When the San Diego District Attorney’s Office recently presented at California Western Butner, who has a strong desire to serve his local community, was impressed. “After meeting with the team from the DA's office, I feel I would really fit in there and plan to pursue an internship as soon as possible.”

In his first year at California Western, Butner gives a special shout-out to the Student and Diversity Services Office as being another example of how the law school is student achievement focused.

“It sounds obvious that all schools would be focused on the success of their students, but this office manifests tangible programs and actions that really make a difference for students,” says Butner. “They support a strong tutoring program, which I had no idea existed before attending Cal Western. That is just one example of some incredible resources the school makes available.”

Today, Josh Butner is finally following in his heroes’ footsteps, and right on cue, his timing is perfect.

“I've always wanted to be a lawyer. I just wanted to do a few other things first.”