Q: Thanks for doing this! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your time at Alma College?
A: Thanks for having me! My name is Neil Youngdahl and I graduated with the Class of 2015. I majored in history and minored in economics. I was very involved in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, which is now known as Delta Gamma Tau. A fun fact is that I met my wife, Dr. Janelle (Taylor) Youngdahl ’15, while we were both students. Go Scots!
Q: That’s wonderful. Where did you go after Alma and what are you doing now?
A: After I graduated, I moved on to the University of Michigan Law School, and graduated in 2017 with my Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. I clerked for the Hon. Sean F. Cox on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan and for the Hon. Richard Allen Griffin on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. I currently work as a litigation attorney for Varnum LLP, which is a full-service law firm based out of Grand Rapids.
- Read more about what our Pre-Law faculty and staff at Alma College do to ensure students get what they need to be successful in grad school and beyond.
Q: I understand you received a special designation recently. Could you tell us about that?
A: I was named chair of the Young Lawyers Division of the Federal Bar Association for the Western District of Michigan. I am honored to do this! Law is a profession that relies heavily on professional relationships and mentoring, and I’ve been privileged to have some great mentors in my career. I hope to pass that same spirit of collegiality onto other young lawyers.
Q: What does a litigation attorney like yourself do?
A: Well, I argue on behalf of people and companies in court proceedings. I handle a lot of commercial disputes — for example, when something goes wrong with a contract between two businesses — oftentimes in federal courts, because of my clerkship experience. I’ve handled all kinds of cases, though, including data privacy and real estate disputes. I’m also developing a specialty in appeals, which really allows me to use the writing and research skills I developed at Alma. It’s a very rewarding, interesting career.
Q: When you think about your time at Alma, what comes to mind? How did Alma help you prepare for law school and for your professional career?
A: I think a lot about 1-on-1 relationships with faculty mentors. At a small school like Alma, we spend a lot of time together, and the history department faculty — Liping Bu, Patrick Furlong, and especially Kristin Olbertson — along with Bob Cunningham in the business department, were very happy to share everything they could in order to help me succeed. One of my big highlights from Alma was working with Dr. Olbertson on a research project that I ended up presenting at a Phi Alpha Theta regional conference. I ended up winning an award for legal history research, which helped me realize I was doing the right things with my career goals. Alma College also makes you work hard in your academics, which is excellent preparation for any grad school.
I also think about the student life, especially my time at the Delta Gamma Tau fraternity. I was the president of that fraternity and that experience helps you understand how different constituencies approach problems. It helps you learn how to run an organization and talk to people. There are a lot of real-life skills that you get from extracurricular activities, and Alma offers a lot of them.