From a galaxy far, far away to law school
The Force is Strong with Ryan Kurtiak: the University of Virginia Law School sophomore who worked at Walt Disney World as a “Star Wars” villager and grew up wanting to design parks at theme saw law school as a way to channel his creativity. energy.
Kurtiak, a native of Greensboro, North Carolina, received his bachelor’s degree in contemporary European studies and political science from the University of North Carolina.
At UVA Law, he served on the editorial board of the Virginia Journal of International Law, as Vice President of Communications for the Federalist Society Chapter, and as a research assistant to Professor Aditya Bamzai. He also participated in the Extramural Moot Court team his freshman year and is the team’s training director.
On our occasional “Star Witness” series, Kurtiak talked about working his childhood dream job, being part of the Extramural Moot Court team, and how he and his classmates made a statement of mode in the Torts class.
Why law school?
Long before I wanted to go to law school, I wanted to be a theme park designer. I was drawn to the creativity and storytelling that these designers employ daily to create whole new worlds for visitors to explore. But at the same time, I’ve always had a desire to help people and tackle the real issues they face. Throughout my undergraduate studies, I took law-related courses such as a Comparative Constitutional Law course and a Criminal Law course while studying abroad in Scotland (where Law is a first cycle). I saw how the law affected people’s daily lives and the impact I could have as a lawyer. At some point I realized that these two sides of me – the creative and the practical – were not at odds. Advocacy that lawyers do is fundamentally based on imagining unique ways to apply legal principles and precedent to new problems. And lawyers often use storytelling to defend their clients. While I’m not designing castles and roller coasters in law school, I approach real-world issues creatively, and that’s what I’ve always wanted.
Tell us about your work at Walt Disney World.
I worked for Walt Disney World as a cast member right after graduating from college in 2019 until I started law school the following year. I started my time there as part of the opening cast of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, where I was a character native to an alien planet, with my own story. Really, my role there was all about guest experiences, solving any issues guests might have and making sure they had the best visit possible. But I have to say, it was pretty cool to clock into the Millennium Falcon every day and have Stormtroopers as co-workers.
Working at Walt Disney World was a childhood dream come true, but I also gained invaluable experience there. I learned what it takes to provide Disney-level customer service, which is the gold standard in the industry. But what everyone wants to hear are the behind-the-scenes stories and secrets. Yes, there really are underground tunnels under the Magic Kingdom. And a special paint shade called “Go Away Green” is used to make entire buildings disappear from view for the average customer. But there’s really only one Mickey Mouse.
Describe your most interesting law school experience.
My most interesting experience in law school was probably the phenomenon that became “Torts and Jorts.” My section had Torts as one of our small section courses in my 1L drop. About halfway through the semester, someone suggested that we all go to Torts in jean shorts, aka “jorts”. So, I bought a pair and one day in October, me and most of my section showed up wearing jorts. After that, the theme changed each week – there were Sports and Torts (team jerseys), Resorts and Torts (Hawaiian shirts) and Morts and Torts for Halloween. Although our teacher may have found us strange, he even dressed up with us for Halloween as a neglectful farmer. Vaughn vs. Menlove, a classic case taught in tort. Although Torts and Jorts may not have taught me anything about legal practice, it was an experience I will never forget from my first year of law school.
My most rewarding academic experience has been continuing education for the Extramural Moot Court team. As a 1L and now in my capacity as director of training for the team, I had the opportunity to hear both the teacher [Scott] Ballenger and Cate Stetson talk about writing memoirs and oral advocacy. Each of their experiences in the field of appellate litigation is recognized, and both are master instructors. These trainings have not only been central to the success of my own moot court competition, but have also been fundamental to how I approach persuasive legal writing and argumentation.
What don’t your classmates know about you?
I love to cook, especially French breads and pastries. I slowly worked my way through a “Julie & Julia” style French cookbook. Among other things, I made baguettes, croissants, pain au chocolat and madeleines.
What’s next for you?
This summer, I’m excited to work as a summer associate at Kilpatrick Townsend in Atlanta. I hope to work with a variety of practice groups, but I have a particular interest in intellectual property. To me, it’s such a unique field because of its centuries-old foundation, but it’s constantly adapting as technology develops. And after taking an IP investigative course and competing in a copyright-centric moot court competition, this is definitely something I could see myself pursuing after law school.