Alumni Spotlight — Meet Phelan Simpkins

By Anna Sago

Anyone who’s been through the law school application process knows it can be a daunting task. From choosing when and how to study for the LSAT to crafting the perfect personal statement, it can be confusing and hectic even for the most qualified applicants.

First-generation students face an even greater challenge of going through this process without a close family member to advise them.

Two-time Mizzou alumnus Phelan Simpkins, BS ‘16, JD ‘21 had to overcome this challenge during his own admissions cycle, and it inspired him to create a tool to help other first-generation students.

His podcast and video series, titled “How to Get Away with a JD,” explores the law school application process as well as the highs and lows of law school coursework and career-building. During the pandemic, Simpkins had the opportunity to further expand the series by interviewing various legal professionals and fellow students.

Simpkins’ journey to law school first started, almost by accident, during his time as an undergraduate, where he studied biochemistry with the intention of attending medical school.

“Somewhere between the end of junior year and beginning of senior year, I realized that if I went to medical school, I would be able to do it— but I probably wouldn’t be satisfied,” Simpkins said.

As graduation neared, Simpkins reflected on what kind of career would bring him the most joy. Though he was still unsure of his path, one of Simpkin’s connections through his fraternity and the MU Tour Team approached him about a position recruiting prospective Mizzou students in his hometown of Chicago. Though he knew this wouldn’t be a permanent career, he accepted.

After two years, Simpkins knew it was time to return to school. After reflecting on his skills and interests, he landed on law school and began studying for the LSAT. After receiving a few rejections and several acceptances, Simpkins decided to return to Mizzou.

“I chose Mizzou because I knew the environment,” Simpkins said. “I knew the cost of living. Going back to school a second time, I didn’t want to incur too much debt.”

Simpkins documented his return through his podcast, which ran from 2019 all the way until his graduation in May of 2021.

After taking some time to purchase a house and get married, Simpkins began his career as in-house counsel for State Farm Insurance last fall, where he works on trademark and patent law issues. But as he settles into that role, he’s looking to continue the conversation.

“I want to bring the podcast back,” Simpkins said. “I’ve been working on how to re-tool it. There’s still a way to talk about those things I wish I knew. There’s more to this story.”

Simpkins hopes that his journey, as narrated by the podcast, will help others “stumble upon” and unlock their full potential in the legal field, just as he did.