Published: Nov. 10, 2023 By
student veterans

Colorado Law students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences, bringing their unique perspectives to our legal community. This Veterans Day, we are proud to highlight just a few of our incredible students who have served in the military.

"Student veterans-- and our students who are still serving-- bring a unique blend of discipline, leadership, and real-world experience to our law school community, enriching the learning environment with their diverse perspectives and a strong commitment to service and advocacy," said assistant Dean of Student Affairs Emily Horowitz. "We are incredibly grateful for their service."

Raquel Ruiz, Zach Cohen, and Erin Farinelli are just a few of our students who have spent time in service. Learn more about their journey from the military to law school in the Q&A below. 

Raquel Ruiz ’25: 

“I started serving in the Oklahoma Army National Guard when I was in college where I did maintenance control. I received my commission through Oklahoma State's ROTC program in 2021 and became a Quartermaster Officer in the Army Reserves. The year before coming to law school, I attended my Basic Officer Leadership Course at Fort Gregg-Adams. This past summer, I was able to participate in the 1L JAG summer internship at Fort Bliss. Next month I will be taking command of the 601st transportation detachment in Santa Fe!”


What inspired you to pursue a law degree?

RR: When I was in college, I became really interested in the role of a Special Victims Counsel and decided to pursue a career in law with the intention of eventually joining the Judge Advocate General Corps. I really liked the idea of helping soldiers through the legal process.  

How has serving in the military impacted your experience as a law student? 

RR: I think being in the military has helped me a lot with my confidence and my oral argument skills. Briefing an oral argument can sometimes feel like briefing at a commander's update or briefing an operations order. I think having experience giving briefs and being asked follow up questions really helped me with oral arguments in our 1L legal writing class and in mock trial. It is also really nice to have a drill check every month while I'm on a student budget! 

What  do you think the future holds for you after you graduate next year? 

RR: I am hoping to go active-duty JAG after law school. I would really like to serve as a Special Victims Counsel. 

Zach Cohen ‘25

 “I am proud of my service in the military, and it has been the biggest and best challenge of my life. In a convoluted way, it actually brought me in touch with a woman who would later become my wife. The Army has allowed me to travel the world, meet incredible people, and be a part of something bigger than myself.”

Why did you decide to come to law school?

ZC: I had never considered pursuing a JD until the winter of 2020 when I was in Afghanistan. While I was there, I had a very fulfilling and interesting interaction with elements of national security law, and an Army lawyer recommended that I pursue the Funded Legal Education Program (FLEP). I never looked back after I applied because I knew it was the right path for me and would benefit my future family. 

How has your time in service shaped your experience as a law student so far?

ZC: For better or worse, the Army has engrained certain habits into me that I have used to my advantage in law school. For example, I wake up early to exercise, treat school like a full-time job (allowing me to get my work done at school to have more time to myself on the weekends), and handle school-related stress with more perspective.

What are some of your career goals?

ZC: I owe 6 years to the Army after I graduate law school as an Army Judge Advocate, which will put me at 15 years of total service time in the Army. After that, I will make whatever decision is best for a stable and successful family life. My wife and I plan on having children in the next few years, so she and I will make whatever decision is best for their future as well as ours. When I eventually get out of the Army, I would like to get involved in corporate law in some capacity.

Erin Farinelli ‘25

“I served in the Army for a little over 8 years as an Aviation Officer. I graduated from flight school as a Blackhawk pilot and then had the opportunity to also qualify as a fixed-wing pilot. I spent most of my career in fixed-wing units, serving in various leadership positions. I was primarily stationed in Texas, Arizona, and Alabama. My favorite jobs were serving as an instructor for junior officers and serving as a company commander for a unit of 125 people.”

How did your experience in the army influence your decision to pursue a law degree?

EF: I began to see that I found the most rewarding part of the Army was the people I got to work with. The military can be stressful, especially for families, which in turn can create law related or tangentially law related problems for soldiers. I enjoyed helping them navigate these scenarios or advocating for them when needed. A law degree seemed like a great way to continue helping others. 

Has your time in the military affected your law school experience for the better? 

DF: I think having work experience in general has been a huge help in managing stress and managing my time. Being in the military gave me the confidence to realize that I deserve a seat at the table (though I still forget regularly) and to not feel pressured by other people’s timelines or career paths. I also think having life experience makes it easier to put things in perspective. My husband is still in the Army and is stationed in Colorado Springs. While being apart isn’t ideal, we were often even further apart while we were both serving, so 2 hours feels great. 

What are some of your plans for after you leave law school?

EF: I moved around a lot in the military, so I hope to stay in Colorado after law school. I also hope to work in immigration law or related public interest work. Lastly, I want to be able to support my dog’s obsession with destroying every toy she is given.

Brian Wagner ‘26

“I served in the Army as a 35D military intelligence officer with 2nd brigade, 4th infantry division out of Fort Carson, Colorado. I deployed twice with them to Kosovo and Afghanistan.”

How did your experience in service influence your decision to pursue a law degree?

BW: It helped me realize the importance of being an advocate for yourself and others. Nobody can thrive on their own and the Army taught me that sometimes all it takes is the right person stepping up to make a difference in a Soldier’s life. Our legal system can be overwhelming, and I think that lawyers are in a unique position to help people navigate those challenges. It is terrible to feel like you’re fighting alone, and having someone who is there for you when you’re going through tough times can make all the difference.

Has having been in the military affected your law school experience for the better? 

BW: I think the Army definitely prepared me for the challenges of law school. The military is inherently unpredictable, so you learn to be flexible and not let minor setbacks derail your entire plan. Law school obviously has its own unique challenges, but I try and stay focused on the big picture and not give in to the pressure.

What are your career goals?

BW: I plan on applying to the Judge Advocate General corps as my primary plan. I also have a background in countering human rights abuses and corruption, which I would love to pursue further.

Colorado Law extends its sincerest thanks to Raquel, Zach, Erin, and the many other members of our legal community who have served in the military.