Alumni Short

Rob Hendricks, Cornell Law School’s Graduating 3+3 Student, Puts Faith into Action

Ithaca, NEW YORK, Fall 2018 FORUM

Robert Hendricks ’19 was taking a nap when the news arrived: after nearly three years as a Cornell undergrad, he’d been accepted into Cornell Law School’s newly revived 3+3 program.

“It definitely caught me off guard,” says Hendricks, B.A. ’17, who’s scheduled to complete his J.D. in 2019, six years after arriving as a pre-law undergrad. “I recognized 3+3 as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to stay here at Cornell, skip the LSAT, chop a year off tuition, and be done with law school by the time I’m twenty-three. To get that call junior year, and to be part of this special place for three more years, it just felt like something I was called to do. Like a God thing.”

It’s a warm September afternoon, and Hendricks is sitting in Purcell Courtyard, taking a break for lunch. He’s having a busy year of balancing classes, church, community, and Cornell Law Review, where he serves as managing editor—but he’s been juggling priorities throughout his time at Cornell, especially as a 1L, which doubled as his senior year in Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences. Along the way, as an undergrad majoring in government, he was a 2017 Distinguished Service Award winner, a member of Quill and Dagger Senior Honor Society, an Academic All-Ivy League varsity athlete, and founding executive codirector of the on-campus Anabel’s Grocery.

In the years since, he’s been a member of the Moot Court Board, an extern with Hon. Alice M. Batchelder of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, based in Cincinnati, and a summer associate at Jones Day in Cleveland, where he drafted memoranda on pending Supreme Court litigation. At Cornell, he’s received the Ally Award from the Puerto Rican Students’ Association, the CALI Award for Civil Procedure from the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction, the Coaches’ Award for his dedication to the Big Red sprint football program, and this invitation to become Cornell Law School’s first 3+3 student in decades.

“Rob is really talented, and he had his heart set on becoming a lawyer,” says Joseph Margulies, B.A. ’82, professor of law and government who proposed 3+3 after teaching Hendricks in three courses as an undergrad. “I’ve known him since he was a sophomore, and he’s remarkably humble and exceedingly gifted. What makes Rob unique is an abiding religious commitment, the way his deep religiosity has led him to a social justice mission, and his commitment to integrating religion into his life as a lawyer.”

Growing up in Rocky River, a well-to-do suburb of Cleveland, Hendricks was a teenager when he started thinking about social justice, organizing a food drive with his middle school student council. In his senior year of high school, coming back from a church mission to New Orleans, he read about the death of Trayvon Martin, and “even though I didn’t necessarily have the education to understand all that was going on, I remember that stuck with me. And I remember that, in combination with my faith and my friends at Cornell, I really began to see my privilege as someone who’s white, male, and Christian. To understand the issues of people who don’t look like me or don’t believe the things that I believe. To see how I can best serve others.”

Arriving in Ithaca that summer, Hendricks found a place at Cornell Faith and Action, now called Cornell Christian Union, which combines Bible study and community service. He joined the Cornell Public Service Center’s Community Partnership Funding Board, which administers grants to student projects, and the Center’s Upward Bound program, which provides college immersion opportunities to underprivileged youth. Through the center, he gained a clearer understanding of food insecurity and helped implement a proposal for a healthy, affordable, student-run grocery store on campus. After months of lobbying the Student Assembly, creating a ninety-page business plan, and securing $400,000 in start-up funds, Anabel’s Grocery was born in Anabel Taylor Hall, across the courtyard from where we sit.

As a four-year starter on Cornell’s sprint football team, Hendricks played both sides of the ball, suiting up as outside linebacker, safety, wide receiver, tight end, and long snapper; in last September’s alumni game, he played quarterback for the first time in his career. His 1L classmates didn’t realize he was spending thirty to thirty-five hours a week at practice and games, but once they did—“I think that threw a lot of people”—they were glad to offer their support. Then, in the middle of his 2L year, Hendricks found a new calling: sixty-two University of Puerto Rico students who arrived at Cornell in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Hendricks mentored one law student, led résumé workshops for the group, coordinatedrelief efforts, and raised awareness. Through that process, he began researching the legal history of the island of Puerto Rico, and by the end of the semester, he’d written a thirty-one-page paper titled “Resiliency as a Social Movement,” which analyzes the history of the United States’ relationship with the island and discusses movements on the island and beyond combating colonialism. Published by the Latina/o Studies Program, the paper earned Hendricks an Ally Award from the Puerto Rican Students’ Association (PRSA).

“People kept asking, ‘Why is this guy from Cleveland so passionate about Puerto Rico?’” says Chris Arce, B.A. ’19, former PRSA copresident and Hendricks’s fraternity brother at Beta Theta Pi. “The answer is that Rob sees an obvious wrong that’s been done and believes he has an obligation to call attention to it. He has an unshakable sense of right and wrong, and when he sees injustice, there’s nothing that can stop him from standing up and advocating for people who can’t advocate for themselves. He wants to right that wrong.”

Following graduation, Hendricks is hoping to build on his 2017 experience at the U.S. Court of Appeals, where he drafted and reviewed bench memoranda, opinions, and orders, and his 2018 experience at Jones Day, where he assisted lead counsel on motions to compel discovery and researched issues around conflict-of-interest laws and statutory interpretation. He emerged from that summer at Jones Day with greater confidence as a writer, deeper love for litigation, and a clearer sense of his career path.

On the gridiron, he used to ask himself, “How would Jesus play football?” (“I like thinking of everything in terms of football, which is a flaw,” he says, “but it also helps me.”) Now that he’s preparing for life after law school, he asks, “How would Jesus litigate?” and answers with a call to use all his heart, mind, and soul.

 

~KENNETH BERKOWITZ