Graduate Profile: Erik Birnel

An Attitude of Gratitude

Erik Birnel

Erik Birnel views the practice of law as a way to bring peace to feuding parties. His parents raised him to be thankful and it is this gratitude that motivates Birnel to dedicate his life to service, to solve problems and help other people achieve the blessings of a balanced life that he enjoys. He chose Gonzaga Law because he knew that “my core values of integrity and selfless service would align with Gonzaga Law’s humanist and Jesuit vision.” Gonzaga’s wider name recognition, thanks to basketball, didn’t hurt either.

It is that mindset that motivated Birnel to serve as president of the Gonzaga Public Interest Law Project, intern for the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho, work in the Gonzaga Business Law Clinic, volunteer for the Moderate Means and Street Law programs, and clerk with Spokane’s City Attorney’s Office and the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate for the U.S. Army. Birnel also participated in student government, Law Review, and National Moot Court. This list of responsibilities shows his work ethic, willingness to undertake new challenges and demonstrates his dedication to serving others and his community, as a whole.

When he arrived as a first-year student, he shared the typical 1L stresses with his classmates; but he credits his Legal Research and Writing professor, Kevin Shelley, with helping him find a balance. Calling Shelley a “calming and clarifying presence during class,” Birnel says Shelley demanded discipline from his students but also “encouraged us to go outside, get fresh air, and live a well-rounded life. The class was so refreshing, and in that class, more than any other, I learned how to think with a law-trained mind.”

Along with things like the Rules of Civil Procedure, the Rule in Shelley’s Case, and the Rule Against Perpetuities, Birnel easily recalls what else he learned from his experience here. “My professors at Gonzaga Law encouraged me to push myself to my full potential, even when I wanted to give up,” he says, “My externship and clinic co-workers showed me how to get things done. My law school friends demonstrated that, with good company, even the most difficult tasks can be fun.”

"My law school experience at Gonzaga taught me that excellence can be achieved without sacrificing relationship."

Birnel will join the Judge Advocate General Corps in the U.S. Army. He will take the lessons learned at Gonzaga Law with him. “My law school experience at Gonzaga taught me that excellence can be achieved without sacrificing relationship,” he says, “In fact, strong relationships are a necessary condition to excellence. I would not have succeeded in law school without my professors, my co-workers, my friends, and — above all — my wife.”