John Fiske, Political Science (‘04) Alumnus, Supports CAL with Generous Gift

New Fiske Pre-Law Lecture Series Debuts in Spring 2022

By Leslie L.J. Reilly

Fiske Family

L to R: John Fiske, and his sons John Paul, Charles John, and wife Courtney.

John Fiske, attorney at Baron & Budd, has pledged through his Fiske Family Foundation, a $50,000 donation to support the annual Department of Political Science Pre-Law Lecture Series. The series will be re-named the Fiske Pre-Law Lecture Series. The gift will fund one new lecture each year, which will be packaged with the "Applying to Law School Panel" and an annual lecture organized by the Pre-Law Advisory Committee to highlight careers in law. 

We caught up with John to hear more about his time at SDSU and his plans for the series.

You’ve created the Fiske Pre-Law Lecture Series for SDSU. How do you hope this will enlighten students studying pre-law? 

Law school and the practice of law is personally challenging. Gathering and collecting as much information and data points as is possible will help pre-law students explore whether law school is the right choice for each of them. Shedding light on informational dark spots will illuminate myths and reality. We support the access to education through information sharing and connection to individuals with special knowledge.

How important is it for students to hear from professionals in law professions to help shape their understanding of it and provide encouragement and connection?

As a first generation lawyer, I did not have any family members or friends who were lawyers. I knew zero lawyers until I met Leon Panetta through a special internship based in Washington, D.C. He was my first exposure to a lawyer, and he said, “Go to law school, it will teach you to think critically.” For other first generation pre-law students or for those looking to gain access to information, we hope the Fiske Pre-Law Lecture Series will connect them with honest, realistic, and helpful legal professionals.

Did you have any experiences attending lectures during your time at SDSU? Any memorable speakers?

When I attended SDSU, there was an advisor and a society, but I don’t recall a formal lecture series. Since I graduated in 2004, CAL has advanced a more robust and mature program for pre-law students and I hope to help that advancement.

Do you recall highlights from your courses taught by College of Arts and Letters political science professors? 

Professors Farid Abdel Nour and Madhavi McCall encouraged independent thinking, helping me to gain confidence in articulating opinions and justifying them as well. This is critical in law school, where students are forced to finish their sentence with “because….” Everything after “because” is the argument —that's the moment of persuasion for an advocate. It’s also the most important part to listen to as well. If your ears stop working after you’ve heard the initial position, without listening to the persuasion after “because,” you aren’t listening at all. Your arguments, positions, and advocacy become stronger the more you listen.

How did studying pre-law help you develop your personal goals and shape your career trajectory?

I was too young — only 20 years old — to graduate college and start law school. I recall after my first law school class all the students went out for a beer, and I went home because I wasn’t old enough to join them. Each of us has our own personal perceptions of limitations and insecurities entering law school — this cannot be avoided and is a part of being human. What I did have was a solid educational foundation in American political systems and structure and in political philosophy. Reading political philosophy was likely the single greatest educational advantage I had to compensate for my perceived limitations. Knowledge of the system and structure is essential too. Reading the why and how gave me the confidence to dive into the law on day one.

What is one thing you wished you had known before your first year of law school?

I wish I would have known and been prepared for the physical nature of the study and practice of law. Law study and practice, when practiced intensely, can be physically taxing. Every law student should consider their time in law school like they are training for the Olympics or some high level physical/athletic challenge. 

First, learn to breathe, this is the first and most important step for health and stress management. Second, get plenty of sleep — sleep is your body’s natural recovery process. Third, drink a lot of water and eat a lot of fresh and natural foods. Fourth, stay away from alcohol as much as possible. Sometimes minimal or moderate alcohol consumption is OK and socially appropriate, but it’s never necessary, so do not be convinced that it is. Mostly, it is deleterious to your health. 

For law students and lawyers, there is no product, there is no inventory, there is no property, there is just you. You are the asset and the advocate, and you are who you need to take care of in order to perform at your highest levels.

If you could tell your younger self one thing, what would it be?

Don’t worry so much. Understand your own personal morals and ethics. Be thoughtful and mindful about your actions and words. Understand you cannot control anything or anyone other than yourself. And, you will be fine no matter your path.

How does giving back to your undergrad alma mater make you feel? 

I received an excellent in-class education for a relatively inexpensive price. I’d make that transaction every time. When I consider what I gained for what my family paid at San Diego State University, I understand the power and importance of robust funding. Funding is the start for improving access to education. Without robust funding, none of it works. The state needs to devote more funds to education and recreation in a way that opens opportunities to all.