Sean Nuernberger at Nippert Stadium

Cultivating the Complete Professional

For 3L Sean Nuernberger, all signs pointed toward a career as an NFL place kicker until he was sidelined by injuries. Now on the verge of graduating law school and joining a top law firm, it's his competitive drive that got him here.

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Before Sean Nuernberger was ranked as a top 10 law student at the University of Cincinnati, and before he was a record-setting kicker at The Ohio State University (OSU) (third all-time in career kicking points), he was the German-born son of professional basketball player Kai Nuernberger, a 1992 Summer Olympian. Sean grew up with his father, winner of both the German and the European player of the year awards, as his coach.

“I learned a lot from my dad,” he said. “He was really good at what he did and made me want to be that way too.”

“When it came to sports, it was serious,” he said. “I needed to play well. If not, I was hearing about it on the car ride.”

At age 11, Nuernberger moved with his parents to the United States, where his mother Michelle is from. It was in high school that he started playing football. He went on to become rated among the Top 10 kicking prospects nationally by all the recruiting services as a high schooler, and enrolled at Ohio State University (OSU) in 2014. There he excelled as a four-time OSU Scholar-Athlete and a four-time Academic all-Big Ten honoree. But when an injury took him off the field his Senior year, everything he had been training for up until that point was brought to an abrupt stop.

“I was basically done for,” he said. “That humbled me a lot. You're on the top. You're doing well, then you get hurt and you're just — nothing essentially, right?”

Sean Nuernberger

Image by Asa Featherstone, IV

Being unable to finish the season also meant that his prospects of playing for the NFL after college did not look good. At this point, he knew he had a choice: to give up and abandon the team and what he loved about sports altogether, or try to reinvent himself.

Ultimately, choosing the latter path of reinvention is what led him to The University of Cincinnati College of Law, where he discovered a common thread between sports and the high-stakes environment of his chosen career path — corporate law.

 “Obviously I'd rather be out on a football field, but with that not being possible the legal profession is a place where you can find those situations where it's win or lose,” he said. “You have a client that's really counting on you and you have to go in and win. And that is what drives me.”

Narrowing down law school choices, UC was obvious because his (now) wife’s family was from Cincinnati. But Cincinnati is also home to more than 800 law firms and many Fortune 500 companies, and he knew living there would afford him real-world experiences in law, while avoiding some of the hassles of big city life.

“Cincinnati is a big city, but it doesn't really feel like one. It has everything you would want, whether that's big law firms or things to do, but it doesn't take forever to get places,” he said. “It is kind of the best of both worlds in that respect.”

“The legal profession is a place where you can find those situations where it's win or lose. You have a client that's really counting on you and you have to go in and win. And that is what drives me.”

- Sean Nuernberger -

At the start of law school, Nuernberger could see right away that while the idea of competition is what drew him to the field, the actual experience of law school was more than that.

"Everyone at UC is super passionate and welcoming," he said. "And that’s fun to be around. It makes it that much easier to withstand this grind that law school is."

Sean Nuernberger studying in the law school.

Image by Asa Featherstone, IV

Still, adjusting to life as a law student came as a shock for Nuernberger initially. After years of working the 24/7 grind of being an athlete, he was confident in his athletic abilities. But law school was different. He started doubting whether he could cut it, knowing the path to landing a job in corporate law would be a bit like trying out for the NFL.

“A job at a big law firm is definitely not given away. It’s not easy to get,” he said. “I'd been playing football for a long time. That's what I did. I trained my whole life in athletics, and now it’s like… am I good enough to make it? It was scary.”

“That is one of the reasons I work hard at UC,” he said. “I have to show up every day and be on top of my game. No way can I go in and just screw off, knowing that everyone else is just killing it.”

One day during his first semester, still combating doubts, Nuernberger decided to bring a graded exam to his professor during office hours. Taking what he had learned from the many car rides home with his dad after a loss, he asked UC College of Law Professor Betsy Lenhart how he could have done better. She proceeded to review his entire 15-page exam line-by-line, as he recalled. From that point forward, his outlook on law school changed.

“It definitely didn’t come naturally to be like, ‘Hey, I screwed this up. I need help.’ You kind of want to hide,” he said. “But I realized, why not take advantage of the open-door policy?... A lot of the reason I've been successful in law school is realizing professors really do care about you, especially at UC.”

He continued to look for these opportunities to ask questions and get support throughout the rest of his time as a law student. During his summer externship with GE Aviation his first year, Nuernberger learned that even real attorneys look out for law students. He has held onto his role with GE Aviation ever since, and refers to his colleagues there as being “like family.” 

Sean Nuernberger.

Image by Asa Featherstone, IV

In his second year, Nuernberger landed another summer externship with Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP (Vorys), through UC’s On Campus Interviews. Being one of the largest law firms in the country with clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to non-profit organizations to government entities, this was the opportunity he had been waiting for.   

“My main goal at Vorys was to figure out if working at a bigger law firm would be the kind of stuff I wanted to do,” he said. “I was definitely nervous… you're going into a big firm that has some really big clients that you're doing work for.”

By the end of the 10 weeks, Nuernberger knew he still had a lot to learn. But he was motivated by the new challenge that corporate law presented. He also knew he was ready to take the leap and apply for a job at a big firm.

After talking with his wife, Nuernberger sent an email expressing his interest in applying to Sidley Austin LLP, an international law firm whose headquarters are in Chicago. With 20 offices worldwide, Sidley Austin LLP is currently the eleventh-largest U.S.-based corporate law firm, and ranks 6th in the AmLaw 100 list.

“I reached out and in a matter of two days, I'd done all the interviews and got an offer,” he said. “So obviously my wife and I were like, what just happened?”

After he passes the bar this summer, he’ll be moving to Chicago to learn the ropes of corporate law, getting to work alongside people who are the best in the field. In addition to the years of being coached by his father at becoming his best, Nuernberger credits UC Law for preparing him and encouraging him to ask questions along the way.

"If you're joining a corporate group, you're not going to know what you're doing until a few years in. Those first couple of years, you're just doing some due diligence,” he said.  “Until I know what I’m doing, I'm going to be asking a million questions.” 

When asked what success is at this point in his career, Nuernberger first emphasized the importance of his family’s happiness. Part of that happiness, he expects, will come from having a career that he loves.

“I got lucky going to play football at Ohio State. I got to show up every day, and everyone at every position were all pretty much the best at what they did,” he said. “I think that's what I was looking for in a career, and why I'm so excited to go to a place like Sidley. I'm going to look down the hall and everyone I’m working with will be super high caliber. That's exciting.”

Want to learn more about our students and their journey to (and through) law school? Read their stories on the "Meet Our Students" page. See yourself at Cincinnati Law.

All images by Asa Featherstone, IV

Author: Katie Bachmeyer

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