IT’S JUST A CHAPTER, NOT THE WHOLE BOOK
Leonardo Rok Lampret stopped at our faculty for a short period of time during his career. He started as a student at Faculty of Law, continued at a postgraduate program at SEB LU and then jumped across the ocean to the USA where he is attending law school, working at the law firm, and teaching as a teaching assistant for Secured Transactions and Corporate Restructuring: Bankruptcy Proceedings. He is certainly busy; however he sat down with us early in the morning and told us more about his story, how his struggles and believing in himself has changed him and how that led him to a life he has today. He shared as well how his experiences helped legalizing same-sex marriage and joint adoptions in Slovenia.
Tell us about your story, Leonardo.
I was born in a small Slovenian city called Šmartno pri Slovenj Gradcu that is located near the Austrian border. I was born in a single-parent family so I was frequently alone as my mother had to work double shifts to provide for us. As a young kid, I was extremely obese and I weighed around 150 kgs (330 pounds). As a result, I was a subject of bullies on many occasions and ended up in my room sobbing. Because my peers were treating me inferiorly due to my look, I found my comfort in video games. It was the only place that offered me a fantasy world I could escape into.
As goes to high school education, I finished my first year at technical gymnasium in Ljubljana. However, I despited schooling at that point. Mainly because I never truly fit among my peers, and ended up alone on many occasions. I was always picked the last at the gym class. I was always over-looked when there were social occasions. Therefore, I did not try to study at all because I did not see any value. For this reason, I almost failed first and second year of high school.
After my first year of high school, I had to transfer high schools due to personal reasons. I ended up attending Gymnasium in Ravne na Koroškem. In school where being different was not accepted among my peers. During your teenage years, you start to develop and explore yourself. You find your likings and your preferences. You start to become an adult and find people who fit you best. I realized soon enough that my love preferences are not the same as my peers are and during what should be the best years of my life, I was all the time in my survival mode. In other words, I was trying to get through the day in one piece. As because of that, there was always I or me, and never us or we. I have never been a part of the community. I never cried for help, because you only cry for help if you believe there is a cry to help for.
My grades were suffering. I had no purpose in my life and no idea what I want to become. I was looking for my identity with no success. I flunked almost all of my classes, I found satisfaction in partying and cigarettes. As a result, my physical and mental health were taking a toll as well. I still remember a trigger that was a lightbulb in my head. The event that made me change my life. That was completely failing three classes in my second year of high school and almost falling behind. That was the time when I knew I had to change something. That I am the only one responsible for my future and that everyone is a product of their hard work and dedication.
When the time came to decide which university I wanted to attend, my first choice was medical school. However, due to my suffering through high school, my grades were not even close enough. Because of that, I ended up at law school and I could not be happier with my choice. I ended up graduating cum laude with an award for writing an above-average master thesis in my generation.
But then you decided to do your master’s degree at SEB LU. What made you change your mind?
I wanted to specialize myself in corporate law – mergers and acquisitions specifically. My belief is that if you want to be a good corporate lawyer, you need to have a good grasp of economics and finance to provide great services to your client. Having a master degree from SEB LU also makes me more competitive in the job market. My main goal was to upgrade my legal knowledge and combine it with economics.
Later on you went to study at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. Why did you decide to continue your studies in the US?
When I was younger I watched Legally Blonde and got inspired by it. But jokes aside, I always wanted to go to the US and experience the lifestyle and workplace. The openness of people and how much they actually accept and praise different people. I never looked at leaving Slovenia to running away from my country. At the end of the day it did offer me a home for 24 years. However, I feel free here in the US. I feel accepted. I feel that I belong. It is the first time in my life that I can say that I am living a life that I imagined and no one has judged me for that ever since I set foot in this country. I can be whoever I want to be and explore my interests. Moreover, I can achieve my full potential here. If you prove yourself and are hard working, you will be rewarded. People in the US notice your dedication and loyalty. Two qualities that are not valued enough in Slovenia.
What is the university application process like?
Application process for universities in the US is difficult and time consuming. You have to start early. My recommendation would be at least six months before the application deadline because there is a lot of paperwork that you have to gather and fill out. The most difficult thing for me was the personal statement. It is an essay where you have to write about yourself and tell your story. As someone who had a rough childhood, I did not like the idea of sharing my story to a stranger. However, I decided against my judgment as I hoped there is someone out there who would listen and understand my story. Therefore, I decided to talk about my childhood journey and what it was like growing up in Slovenia as a part of LGBTQ community. How everything shaped me as an individual and was also the reason why I decided to study law.
Second thing that can be extremely difficult to obtain are letters of recommendations. They are an essential part of every application, and you need them to be even considered as an applicant to the university. I see many people making a mistake asking their professors for a letter of recommendation because they got a good grade in their class. Unfortunately, that is not enough. Your recomendor has to be a person who knows you on a personal level or someone with whom you worked on projects and can vouch for you that you will continue to be a brilliant student.
I also had to take the TOEFL exam to prove that my understanding of English is enough that I can follow classes. However, every university has its own requirements, and you have to be careful when you are applying. My recommendation also is that you should apply to multiple universities because, unlike in Slovenia when you can predict whether you will be accepted or not, there are many factors considered when being considered for university in the US. You can have brilliant grades and the TOEFL exam, but there is one thing that the admission office does not like and that little one thing can get you rejected. Additionally, you also have to note that the acceptance rate is between 10 and 40 percent.
How is studying in the USA different from studying in Slovenia?
It is extremely different. Slovenian studies, at least based on my experience, are more based on theory with no to little student interaction. It rarely happened that the professor cold called us to check whether we read mandatory literature for class. Here in the US, if you do not do readings before lectures, you could interrupt whole class dynamic. The professor will question and roast you to test whether you actually understand what the topic of the class is. However, this is not some sort of punishment, but more like trying to encourage a debate and forcing you to go into topics in-depth. If you ask me, a great way to educate brilliant minds.
Today you work at Law Clerk in Chicago. What exactly do you do at a firm? What are your responsibilities?
I work at Much Shelist in a corporate department. My main focus is mergers and acquisitions and general corporate work. I mostly do due diligence reports and prepare other legal documents that are necessary to bring the deal to the closing.
What are the main challenges you face?
My main challenge and mostly my only challenge has been a language gap. I am fluent in English. However, I still come across phrases that I have never seen in my life. Contractual language here in the US is different. For example, contracts in Slovenia are not long. Mostly they are up to 10 pages. The reason behind is that questions that are not governed by the contract itself, you can find an answer in written law. Additionally, when a dispute arises as a result of poor contract drafting or because there was a misunderstanding, starting a litigation in Slovenia is not as costly as in the US. Here in the US, not everything is governed in detail by the law or not everything is black or white as many states have different approaches that can vary substantially. That is why in practice I come across contracts that are more than 50 pages long.
What are your goals for the future?
I want to fully finish law school here in the US and make my living here. My current long-term goal is to become a partner at a law firm one day and fully specialize in the M & A markets and video gaming industry.
You live in Chicago. What is like living in a big city? And could you even compare it to Ljubljana?
It would be quite difficult to compare Ljubljana and Chicago. The latter is so much bigger with a lot more people and therefore more diversity. You must be more patient and your mentality must be more open-minded. It really is just a melting pot of culture, language, and race. The city never sleeps and there is something always going on. Regardless of who you are or what your background is, you will always find your people.
I cannot stress enough the difference in size. If you want to go from one side to the other side of Ljubljana, you will need approximately half an hour. In Chicago is going to take you at least two hours.
Are there any cons to living in a big city?
Traffic is for sure one of them. As Chicago is a big city, although there is some public transport, there are a lot of cars here. American people love to drive everywhere. They kinda have to because the city and the country itself is enormous. Therefore, there can be many traffic jams. Additionally, there is also a crime rate that causes big problems in Chicago. You feel safe walking around during the night in Ljubljana most of the time. Here you would strongly be advised against that.
What would be your advice for students who are just starting their studies and careers?
My main advice would be: “Believe in yourself.” Pain is temporary, glory is forever. So often in life things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great good fortune. And it did for me. Because I ended up at law school, I was blessed that I was in the team who filed a lawsuit against Slovenia because it did not allow same-sex people get married. Last month, equality won in the eyes of Constitutional Court and same-sex people can finally get married and adopt a child.
You have to keep going, you have to be stubborn, you have to overcome the obstacles. You have to fight for things you care about. You will fail but accept it as a part of your journey and move on. Never be a victim. Always learn from your mistakes. Grow from it.
Whatever you choose to do, leave tracks. Do not do things just for yourself. You will want to leave the world a little better for your having lived. And as you move on, do not catch yourself in a trap of comparison. Do not compare yourself to other people because you are unique. And what defines you now, it will be mere shades and hues of a more vibrant you over the next five, ten, or twenty years. There is nothing more liberating than that – knowing that life will look differently that you think it will.
Last but not least, your background and your grades do not define you. Do not let yourself be defined on how well you are performing in your classes. There are more important things in your life.