Impact of Giving
Reginald Steer Family Foundation with 2L Alex Salazar
At some point, every child is asked what they want to be when they grow up. Alex Salazar, 2L, remembers the answer he always gave.
“As early as elementary school, there were only two things I ever said I wanted to do: be a United States Marine, and be a lawyer,” he says.
Salazar, who grew up in St. Paul, fulfilled one of those dreams straight out of high school, serving in the Marine Corps for just shy of four years. When his active duty ended, he shifted his sights to the other: a career in law. Now, as he continues to work toward his degree, Salazar is receiving support from the Reginald Steer Family Scholarship.
The scholarship, created in 2019 through a gift from Reginald Steer ’69 and his wife, Marianne, was born out of a desire to give back. During his own years at Minnesota Law, Steer received a scholarship that covered the full cost of his tuition and books. He wrote to thank the donor and received a letter in return that wished him success and reminded him to pay it forward someday.
At his 50th class reunion in 2019, Steer decided it was time. He created the scholarship in his family’s name and encouraged others in his graduating class to think about making a gift. After meeting many in the legal profession who came from private school backgrounds, he hoped the scholarship would help more public school students achieve their goals in the field.
“I hope to help at least in that small way—to have some public school graduate go on to a satisfying career,” Steer says.
A Structure for Problem-Solving
Like Salazar, Steer grew up in St. Paul. After earning his bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota in 1966, he enrolled in the Law School, intrigued by the idea that law could marry philosophical reasoning with practical implementation.
As a law student, he built close friendships, worked on the Minnesota Law Review, and assisted faculty in research and writing projects, such as a casebook on poverty law. He was drafted for military service during his second year and was able to defer it long enough to finish his degree and apply to the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
When he was accepted, Steer—who never planned to be a trial lawyer—suddenly found himself having to try cases that would affect clients’ lives. The challenge motivated him to build up his knowledge of evidentiary rules and exchange suggestions with colleagues on how to improve.
“There’s nothing that focuses you like sitting next to a person who is facing jail time,” he says. “I became very thorough and very knowledgeable in short order. The Law School did a good job of instilling in me the analytical structure, the way to approach legal problems.”
After completing his service as a JAG lawyer in 1973, Steer took the California bar exam and then received a job offer he couldn’t refuse: a position with the prestigious San Francisco law firm then known as Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro. The firm employed relatively few Minnesota graduates, and he initially was nervous about competing with those from Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. That concern soon melted away, though, as he performed better than he expected and quickly became a partner in the firm. Steer practiced commercial litigation there for 29 years.
Later, he was recruited to join Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, where he worked for 13 years before retiring in 2017.
A Burden Lifted
For Salazar, law school has been an interesting but unexpected experience. The sudden change to remote classes at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last year presented some challenges, but he says professors have done well in maintaining the classroom structure. With a concentration in business law nearly finished, Salazar is considering adding a second concentration in health law and bioethics to become more well-rounded. Later this year, he looks forward to resuming a summer associate position at Dorsey & Whitney.
As he thinks about what comes after graduation, Salazar feels open to a range of opportunities, from working at a firm to public service. Regardless of what the future holds, he knows his Marine Corps service will influence his career in law. The Marines train individuals to hold themselves to the highest standard, he says, and embody traits like honor, discipline, and selflessness.
“A lot of these intangibles, I think, had quite a profound effect on me when I was younger—they really helped to shape my life and the person I am today,” he says. “In that regard, I will probably be a better lawyer because of the Marine Corps.”
In the meantime, the Reginald Steer Family Scholarship will make it easier for Salazar to focus on his academic work rather than his finances. Given how many students grapple with loan debt, he feels fortunate to have received the support.
“It’s kind of hard to put my gratitude into words sometimes,” he said. “I just don’t have to worry about those things, and it’s a humungous burden lifted off of my shoulders.”
By Kevin Coss, a freelance writer based in the Twin Cities