Michael Earner, a soldier for nearly 10 years, faced a major challenge in shifting from a military to an academic culture during his first year as a Suffolk Law student.

“It was a big transition for me to go from a military environment where you simply execute on orders to an academic environment where there is ambiguity and room to question and explore just about everything,” said the U.S. Army veteran. “I kept trying to lock in definite answers that first year and really struggled to see anything but a direct route to a solution.”

Earner, a 2016 Law School graduate, had served in Afghanistan and later benefited from the Yellow Ribbon veterans program at Suffolk. He said that his life as a law school student gradually improved thanks to the guidance of Associate Dean of Students Ann McGonigle Santos.

“She challenged my way of thinking and how I came up with my answers,” he said. “She said the way I was doing things was good, but here is another way to do it. She taught me that sometimes there is more than one answer to a problem, which is huge in the field of law.”

In his first semester at Suffolk Law, Earner looked at everything in the world as black and white. He even treated his professors as if they were his military commanders. At first he was tempted to stand at attention when a professor entered the classroom.

That all began to change when Earner enrolled in a Legal Practice Skills course taught by Santos. She opened his eyes and his mind to a completely new way of looking at things and applying himself.

“She was very helpful and patient with me and got me to come out of my comfort zone,” said Earner, 34, who is a national manager for a consumer law firm with more than 500 attorneys and 100 office locations. “She taught me to think differently, and that positively impacted me when dealing with my legal studies and beyond.”

What impressed Santos about Earner right from the beginning was his intelligence and intense desire to succeed.

“Mike’s first writing assignment proved to be a challenge,” she recalled. “However, he soon thereafter met with me and posed several thoughtful questions.

“Once he was acclimated and understood the difference between what he wrote in the military as compared to legal writing, he was very successful in my class and developed into an excellent writer.”

Earner focused a large portion of his studies on legal technology and innovation as he pursued an accelerated Suffolk Law JD/LLM in taxation.

He is grateful for Santos’ words of wisdom and encouragement along the way.

“I don’t think I would have finished law school as successfully as I’ve done without her,” he said.