Brandon Helms is a 2007 graduate of the College of Law. He is an Assistant United States Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan.
We talked to Brandon about his DePaul Law experience and his journey after graduation.
Q. Tell us about your path to DePaul Law and the legal profession?
When I started college, I intended to become a doctor. I enrolled as a chemistry and biology double major at my undergraduate institution, Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis. Early on, I realized that I did not enjoy the memorization required for biology. I continued with chemistry because I liked the concepts, but I was not interested in becoming a bench chemist. Trying to figure out my next step, I knew I liked to write and debate, so I added political science as a minor and later applied to law schools. When I started my reading assignments prior to the start of my 1L year, I knew I had made the right decision.
I applied to a number of law schools across the country, but my focus was on Chicago, as I wanted to have a big-city experience. In addition, maximizing scholarships and minimizing student loans were important parts of the decision process. In the end, the choice came down to Indiana University or DePaul. Both were quality law schools that were providing similar financial aid packages, but I wanted to be in Chicago.
Q. What were some of your notable experiences at the College of Law (classes, professors, student organizations, etc.)?
While I was not officially a student in the Center for Intellectual Property Law and Information Technology, I did have strong relationships with Professors Bobbi Kwall and Barbara Bressler. They were instrumental in helping me obtain a paid internship with Judge Amy J. St. Eve the summer after my first year. The opportunity with Judge St. Eve was pivotal in helping me build my resume, legal skills and connections.
I also enjoyed my time on the DePaul Law Review editorial board. It was a big commitment, but I appreciated working with dedicated and extremely smart colleagues who were serious about putting out the best product possible. We were proud of the Law Review volume that we produced.
Lastly, I had fantastic classmates and made some great friends. I’m still in contact with many of them today, and I enjoy reading about their successes in alumni news or on social media.
Q: Can you take me through your career and how you ended up where you are now?
I started as an associate at Brinks Hofer Gilson & Lione (now Brinks Gilson & Lione). During the on-campus interview process, I interviewed with a number of general practice firms, but a clerk for Judge St. Eve steered me toward IP boutiques and recommended Brinks. My work focused on patent litigation for pharmaceutical companies. After four years, the partners I worked for left to go to Steptoe & Johnson. I decided to follow, as I was looking to move to a general practice firm with the hope of doing some non-IP litigation work.
After about four years at Steptoe, it was time for a change both personally and professionally. My wife and I wanted to start a family, and she wanted to be closer to her family in the Detroit area. Professionally, I was looking for a new challenge. After eight years working for large firms, I had paid off my student loans and was seeking an opportunity to do public service and be in the courtroom more. The position with the U.S. Attorney’s Office seemed like a perfect fit, and I knew that if I ever wanted to transition back to a large firm one day, a stint as an Assistant U.S. Attorney would make me more marketable.
During my first few years at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, I worked in the civil division defending federal agents in Bivens actions and leading complex civil fraud qui tam actions. In late 2018, I moved to the criminal division and started prosecuting small drug and gun crimes and some immigration fraud cases. Earlier this year, I moved to the health care fraud unit, where I now prosecute health care providers who defraud Medicare and insurance companies.
Q: What advice do you have for today’s law students?
The best advice I can give is to make yourself knowledgeable. Have an understanding of your priorities, the strength of your law school in various regions of the country and how to best sell yourself. Rankings, program reputation, alumni connections and grades are extremely important with employers—they can open doors for you or they can shut them. Once you have proven yourself, they matter less, but they are crucial early in your career. And, of course, network. The more exposure you can obtain during law school to the profession and the different opportunities that are out there, the better sense you will have of the career path you want to take.
Q: You recently published your first novel, Not Today, Fred. Tell us more about your motivations to write the book and your process to complete it?
Truthfully, prior to writing Not Today, Fred, the last time I wrote creatively was back in high school. Usually, I am an upbeat and optimistic person, but in early 2017, I felt like a black cloud was hanging over me. I could not shake it. I was not feeling fulfilled at work, I had issues at home, and for the first time I felt uncertain about where my future was heading. To help deal with how I was feeling, I turned to writing, and it became a therapeutic outlet. My writing morphed into my novel, a romantic comedy about a man who uses humor to cope with his depression and a new girlfriend helps pull him out of his funk.
In completing the book, I found that I love the creative writing process. I finished the first draft and started editing. From there, I shared the book with family and friends. They provided positive feedback and encouraged me to seek publishing. I quickly realized, however, that the difficult part was not writing the book, but getting literary agents and publishers to care about it.
It was a long road of editing, rejections from literary agents, and trying to make connections in the publishing industry. I thought about self-publishing, but then through a friend of a friend, I connected with Linda Roghaar at White River Press. White River Press decided to publish Not Today, Fred and provided critical support. After line editing, copy editing, proofreading, cover design and setting up distribution channels, Not Today, Fred was released in March. Paperback and eBook copies can be purchased wherever books are sold, including on Amazon and Barnes & Noble or through local bookstores.
As for the future, I am working to build my author platform. I am revising a second novel before I pitch it to literary agents in the hope of signing a contract with a traditional publisher, and I started writing a third novel. Finding the time to write can be challenging, especially during this pandemic, but I am excited to see where it takes me.