Bob Hinzman has spent the last two summers taking law classes at the College of Law and providing legal research as an independent contractor. As a non-traditional 1L, he joined the Leadership Council on Legal Diversity and was paired with a mentor, Suleiman O. Oko-Ogua of Bailey & Wyant, PLLC.
Before law school, he lived in Fayette County, West Virginia, with his wife and three children, and he worked full-time for the West Virginia State Police as a Financial Crimes Investigator in the department’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations. He holds an undergraduate degree from Bluefield State College, a master’s degree from the University of Charleston, and is a certified fraud examiner.
What was your career before law school?
I was really pursuing two careers: one in the criminal justice system and one in the military. First, I had been working in law enforcement in West Virginia since 1993, when I was discharged from the Marine Corps. I had worked as a uniform police officer with Beckley Police Department, Bluefield Police Department, and the West Virginia State Police. However, before I came to law school, I was working for the State Police’s Bureau of Criminal Investigations as a Financial Crimes Investigator––I had been in the position since 2013.
Prior to that, I worked for the West Virginia Insurance Commissioner’s Insurance Fraud Unit and had been there since 2006. In all, my last 12 years of employment was exclusively focused on fraud and white-collar crime. During that period, I obtained a Master’s degree in Forensic Accounting from the University of Charleston, became a Certified Fraud Examiner through the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, and became a Certified Economic Crimes Forensic Examiner through the National White Collar Crime Center.
Second, although I had left active duty in the Marine Corps in 1993, in 1997 I resumed my military career as an active drilling reservist and had remained an active member of the Marine Corps Reserve ever since then. This required extensive reserve training throughout the years but also involved a deployment to Iraq in 2004 and a deployment to Afghanistan in 2010. I retired from the military reserves in 2019 at the rank of Sergeant Major before coming to law school.
Why did you decide to come to law school?
A few reasons.
First, I feel that my professional and military career experiences, and my education and training, have prepared me for a law degree. It seems a logical, natural progression. I am passionate about being active in combating fraud and financial crime offenders. For instance, in addition to my professional experiences, I served as an adjunct professor teaching criminal investigation at Mountain State University from 2005-2010; I served as a faculty instructor teaching financial crimes at the University of Charleston from 2015-2018; and I served as the financial crimes instructor at the West Virginia State Police Academy from 2013-2019. Therefore, it’s important for me to give back by instructing, mentoring, and assisting investigators with their crime-fighting efforts.
Second, most people do not realize how prevalent financial crimes are in this state or the extent of the harmful social and economic impact that financial crimes are inflicting upon the citizens of West Virginia––especially among our most vulnerable, such as our senior citizens. During my time working these types of cases, I was able to experience and learn first-hand the areas that need the most attention and where immediate change is needed. That’s where I feel I could really make an impact going forward. In essence, I came to law school to further develop the legal knowledge and skills necessary to maximize my full potential in this regard.
Hinzman is featured in an anti-fraud video produced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia.
Third, my service in the military has been an extraordinarily meaningful part of my life, and it was extraordinarily time-consuming. Thus, I needed to complete that obligation before committing to law school. As I progressed through the ranks, I found nothing more rewarding than helping my fellow Marines through instruction, mentorship, counseling, and leadership.
Although my time in the military had to end, I believe my education and experiences combined with a law degree, will enable me to continue serving veterans and service members through much needed legal advocacy and assistance. The Veterans Administration, its programs, services, and employees (like my veterans education officer Sean Snyder in Charleston, West Virginia) have gone out of their way assisting me with my educational pursuits and career development. Accordingly, I want to devote a generous portion of my post-law school time reciprocating the service and support that I have received by helping veterans.
Finally, being a lifelong resident and public employee of the state, WVU College of Law was honestly the only law school that I considered. It is a premier school that has turned out many great professionals that I have worked with over the years and I wanted to be a part of it as well.
Have your military and law enforcement backgrounds helped shape your law school experience so far?
I would say that most, if not all, of my personal qualities and professional achievements are direct products of the institutional values and personal influences that developed and shaped me throughout my military and law enforcement careers.
In both settings, I worked with diverse professional members, generally with a unified mission, goal, or purpose, in a constantly evolving environment, and often under stressful or adverse conditions. Unequivocally, these backgrounds have helped prepare me for law school. Our law school embodies institutional values, and the faculty provide positive influences; indeed, the environment has been very similar as well––a diverse set of professionals, common goal in mind, constantly changing environment, and at times stressful.
Additionally, both the military and law enforcement careers require certain work skills and attributes that are necessary to successful job performance. These backgrounds have provided essential experiences that have enhanced my abilities to, among other things, communicate, plan and manage time, organize, and so on. Of particular importance is that the military and law enforcement sectors provide, encourage, reward, and often mandate successful continuing education and training. In other words, unless you are actively engaged in work, a good portion of your time is spent educating and training. As such, these personal traits, characteristics, and conceptual mindsets that I have developed in the military and law enforcement, undoubtedly have proven vital in law school.
Do you have any advice for others who may be considering coming to law school as a non-traditional student?
Non-traditional students generally have other priorities and obligations to consider when planning to come to law school (e.g., family, work, military, housing, schools, pediatricians, veterinary, commute, jobs, and so on––the list could be short or long, simple or complex). I would recommend spending substantial time, well in advance (if possible), working out the transitions and adjustments, especially if the transition involves other family members because the change will affect them as much as you (perhaps even more).
The military has sponsorship programs whereby service members who are changing duty stations or otherwise joining a new unit are assigned a “sponsor” (another service member of similar rank, familial status, gender, etc.). Similarly, my advice to a non-traditional student would be, upon acceptance to law school, ask to be put in contact with any current or recently graduated non-traditional law school student of a similar non-traditional status, if one exists, simply for advice and to answer questions unique to a non-traditional student.