Brad Benham could divide his life in two halves: Abilene and Pepperdine. Growing up in Abilene, Texas, he attended Abilene Christian University, where he earned an education degree and served as a youth minster for three years. Upon graduation, he moved west--to Pepperdine for a whirlwind three years of law school. It wasn't long before he made a name for himself in his new surroundings. He became the Student Bar Association president, led the Christian Legal Society Bible study on campus, participated in trial teams, helped start the dodgeball tournament, and shook hands with five Supreme Court justices in two years. After graduation, he wasn't finished; Benham stayed on at Pepperdine to direct the school's alumni department. In this interview, he gives slightly incriminating answers to our burning questions.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be Bruce Springsteen, Davy Crockett, an astronaut, a youth minister, or a teacher. I never really thought about being a lawyer; however, my parents apparently always knew. When I was in 4th grade, I dressed up as President George H. Bush for Halloween and my best friend went as Ross Perot. We would debate on people's front door step and then ask for candy.
Did you grow up sleeping on sheets emblazoned with the Texas flag?
Just because people are from Texas doesn't mean that they have Texas stuff everywhere. That being said, of course I slept under Texas sheets. To this day I have a Texas flag in my room.
How did you choose Pepperdine for law school?
One day during my senior year at Abilene Christian I was walking through the campus center on the way to class. I was in my traditional uniform of backwards hat, athletic shorts, and flip-flops, when I was stopped by one of my professors. She asked me to come meet a man from Pepperdine Law. I refused because of my slacker attire, but she insisted. That man was Dean Emeritus Ron Phillips. We sat and spoke for about 30 minutes, and he asked me bluntly, "Why not Pepperdine, Brad?" I responded that honestly the cost scared me, to which he said, "I understand, but money is a bad reason to make most decisions." He was exactly right. Through the blessings of scholarships from alumni donations and loans, Pepperdine Law ended up being both affordable and 100 percent the right place for me.
Who was your favorite professor? What was your favorite class?
Roger Alford was probably my favorite professor. I had him for Contracts on my first day of law school, and he absolutely terrified me. I walked out thinking, "I am so not prepared to do any of this!" Turns out that I was right and I was not prepared, but I figured out a way to make it through. As for a favorite class, I would say Harry Caldwell and Trial Practice would have to be right up there. It wasn't theoretical or lofty, it was just people talking to people, persuasion, and real issues.
Tell us how you built the Pepperdine Law dodgeball tournament into the legendary, time-honored tradition that it is.
When I was a 1L at Pepperdine, Student Bar Association Vice President Brent Nibecker ('07) and President Ryan McClelland ('06) had the idea of bringing the dodgeball tournament into the atrium. So, the three of us went to Dean Jim Gash and told him our idea. He asked the logical question of whether the dodgeballs would break the light fixtures. We all assured them that they would not. He was not convinced, so we marched down in the atrium and launched a ball at one of the circa-1980 globes. It ricocheted off harmlessly; Dean Gash looked over and said "Okay, sounds good to me." So, we started trying to figure out how to make it work. Honestly, we had no idea what we were doing, but it just all seemed to go off without a hitch. The day of the tournament, I proposed having commentary--and I have now done the play-by-play for four years in a row. Dodgeball has now become a staple tradition and it gets better every year. This year there were 250 competitors, more than 350 spectators, and a corporate sponsor.
What do you like most about your job as director of alumni?
This job has been quite a bit harder than I thought it would be because I only really know alumni who have graduated in the last three years. However, it gets better each day as I make new connections with people who may have graduated from a different year but had a similar experience as me. So, I guess that would be my favorite part: Making new relationships, talking about jokes that Jim McGoldrick told 15 years ago and 15 minutes ago, and relaying that Pepperdine Law is still a place where professors' doors are open, and students graduate knowing how to work.
If you could tell Pepperdine Law alumni one thing, what would it be?
Be proud. Be proud of what you helped build, be proud of the continual growth of the Law School, and be proud of the future. We are still such a young law school, yet have already accomplished so much. That is due to our alumni making a great name for us in the legal community, our professors shining in academia and in the classroom, and our students continually dedicating themselves to follow in our wonderful tradition of excellence and humanity. If you don't believe any of this, then come out to Malibu and let me take you to lunch. I promise that I can convince you that we have and will always be a truly exceptional institution.
Quick, everyone at Pepperdine is drowning all at once. Who would you save?
Janet Kerr. She would think of way to save everyone else, or convince others to go save them. She is that good.
What would you like to see Pepperdine accomplish in the next five years?
We are truly on the cusp of something great. We are not only ready to break into the top tier, but also to cement our reputation as the leading faith-affiliated law school in the world. Our faith is lived out daily through our alumni in their pro-bono efforts, our students in their ever-growing local and international human rights work, and our faculty and staff in the way students are loved whenever they walk through our doors. However, if we are going to do this-we need help. We need more involvement from our alumni in hiring our graduates, networking at our alumni events, and carrying the banner of Pepperdine into conference and courtrooms all across the country. Also, we need more investment. We need more professors, improved facilities, and smaller class sizes to truly dig in with the big boys and show them we are not going anywhere. It is a very exciting time for the law school.
What's the best thing about Texas?
Easy, my nieces. Wesley Kathleen is 3, Harper Abigail is 18 months, and Lyla Elliot is about 15 weeks away from joining the family. Being Uncle B-Rad is pretty much the best gig that a person could get.