From Prague to Phoenix: Graduate finds community at ASU Law
Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2022 graduates.
Roman Buss knew as a child growing up in the Czech Republic he wanted to be a lawyer.
“I had no idea what that meant though,” said Buss, who was raised in Prague. “I have no attorneys in my family, and I didn’t know any attorneys growing up. I do have a letter from fourth grade where I wrote that I would either become a lawyer or a professional soccer player.”
While he didn’t become a professional athlete, he did eventually find his dream of pursuing a legal career through the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.
Buss first came to the United States as a high school junior in a student exchange program in Wisconsin, where he learned English and played ice hockey.
Enjoying the experience, he returned to Wisconsin after the exchange program ended for another year of high school and then back to the state again to earn his undergrad degree. He found his next move to Arizona — where he could pursue a Juris Doctor at a school he appreciated for its diversity and strong connection to the community, in a place with much better weather than Wisconsin.
While at ASU Law, Buss says he appreciated the many externship opportunities that were available to him, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
During his first year of law school, Buss worked at the Arizona Supreme Court conducting legal research and writing memoranda on how Arizona courts should function during the COVID-19 pandemic. He worked with the ASU Office of General Counsel, learning from a team of attorneys about working in-house at a large educational institution and their legal needs, as well as with the Arizona Coyotes’ general counsel.
“Though much of that experience was remote, I loved doing legal work in the realm of professional sports, the closest I’ve ever gotten to my professional athlete dream,” Buss said. “I found that reviewing lease agreements or other contracts is much more enjoyable when representing a professional hockey team, especially for someone who grew up playing hockey.”
As a summer associate at Snell & Wilmer last year, he had the opportunity to work with various practice groups, ranging from corporate and securities to bankruptcy to commercial litigation. Making personal connections and enjoying the experience at the firm, he plans to continue his work there after graduation.
We spoke to Buss to learn more about his time at ASU Law and how it helped him launch his career.
Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: Honestly, a real “aha” moment came in college when I had a fantastic pre-law adviser and political science professor, Dr. Charley Jacobs. I found his constitutional law classes engaging, and I participated in Mock Trial as well. I studied economics, and I did consider going the PhD route but when senior year came, I knew I wanted to pursue law school. Not only would it allow me to combine law and economics, but it meant I wouldn’t have to do as much economic modeling – a win-win.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?
A: I learned early on that you don’t need to fit a certain stereotype to be successful.
I never fit the typical definition of a law student — someone who loves reading and writing, stays updated on current decisions from the Supreme Court, discusses legal issues in their free time, or whatever the stereotypical law student does. However, this didn’t prevent me from being successful, and I have a lot of friends and classmates who bring different perspectives to the table as well.
Everyone suffers from imposter syndrome at some point in law school, especially those who don’t have lawyers in the family, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from going for it. ASU brings together a unique blend of people from various backgrounds, and though each person’s perspective on practicing law may be different, everyone has a chance to succeed and find their space in the field.
Q: Why did you choose ASU Law?
A: It was a tough decision at first. I had applied to more than 10 schools around the country, primarily on the East Coast and in the Midwest. When I received a very generous scholarship from ASU, I decided to visit the school.
I came in February of 2019, and I loved the visit. I enjoyed meeting current students, faculty members and alumni. I connected with attorneys who practice in Phoenix, and they shared great advice about the area from a business perspective. I learned about the great opportunities Phoenix offers in terms of legal externships, judicial positions, in-house positions, big law firms and more. ASU is the only law school in Phoenix, and its close connection to the local community made it an easy decision in the end. I could envision starting a successful career in Phoenix, and I’m glad to be staying after graduation.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: This is a tough question. I was fortunate to have several fantastic professors while at ASU, and most of them shared valuable lessons.
I’d say that Professor Christopher Miner shared the most important lesson: be passionate about your personal life, your friends, your family and relationships in general. He has experience from some of the largest law firms in the world, and he’s warned us about the trap of devoting every minute of your life to work. Cultivating relationships, staying connected with people close to you and putting in the effort to make yourself available to your friends and family is much more important to happiness than chasing those extra few billable hours. We all need to be reminded of this once in a while, and I appreciated Professor Miner sharing that lesson with me.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Specifically for law students, figure out what study style works for you, and stick to it. You’ll be just fine. Don’t worry too much about what other people are doing. Every person learns differently, and doing whatever is most effective for you is more indicative of success than how much time you can spend in the library.
Q: What advice do you have for students who may be interested in pursuing a law degree?
A: You should go for it if that’s something you’re considering. A law degree can provide so many opportunities — and if you have doubts, trust me, everyone does — I would recommend finding a school that not only provides a great education and opportunities but also offers a generous scholarship. Though there are still positions that only take applicants from the top schools in the country, there are fewer every year. You can work at the biggest law firms in the country even if you go to a school that is not ranked in the top 14. Not having an outrageous amount in student loans gives you valuable flexibility when you’re applying for your first job.
Look for a great community, great opportunities outside of the classroom and an alumni network that will help you score your dream position. That may not necessarily be ASU Law for you, but it was for me, and I’m so happy with my decision.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: I spent a lot of time in various study rooms on the fourth floor of the law school, specifically in the spacious rooms by the elevator. That’s where I was most productive, and I’m thankful that the law school has so many great study spots. But if I can expand the definition of campus to downtown Phoenix — or within walking distance of the school — I’d say that Press Coffee is the absolute best spot. Great for studying, meeting friends, meeting potential employers or just enjoying a cup of fantastic coffee.
Q: How did ASU Law help prepare you for your future career?
A: ASU law helped me tremendously toward becoming an attorney. I couldn’t practice law without a JD, but beyond the degree, the college provided me with great opportunities.
I took unique courses taught by attorneys practicing in Phoenix, completed externships with great organizations in the Valley and learned about law while surrounded by brilliant professors and classmates who will soon become my colleagues. I look forward to learning more about the practice of law when I start working in September, but these past three years taught me how to think like a lawyer and they provided professional and personal connections that I’ll enjoy for years to come.
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: First, I’ll travel a little bit with my mom who is coming for graduation from Prague; we’ll be visiting San Diego, Antelope Canyon and Zion National Park.
At the end of May, I’ll start studying for the Arizona Bar Exam, which I’m taking in July – wish me luck. Then I’m going to Hawaii for the first time and going back to Europe for a few weeks, before starting work at Snell & Wilmer in September. I’m excited to get started, learn from great attorneys and get more involved in the Phoenix community. The extra traveling before starting a demanding legal career certainly doesn’t hurt though.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: Great question. There are so many issues worth considering, and $40 million might not cut it. I’d personally focus on hunger and access to water around the world, especially in areas where children are affected. I had a chance to visit a few such places when I was younger, and seeing those conditions was truly eye-opening. I met teenagers, about my age at the time, who had to walk several miles a day in extreme temperatures to collect food and water for their families. Everybody deserves safe access to food and clean water. These are basic needs that must be addressed in communities around the world before we even begin to focus on the other worthy problems.