SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Law is a family affair for two University of South Dakota School of Law students.

Recent USD graduate Matt Skinner and third-year student Tyler Volesky are following in the footsteps of their fathers and going into criminal defense law. The pair were recently featured on the Class Action podcast hosted by MSNBC host, Katie Phang.

The episode, ‘Standing on the shoulders of giants,’ was released this week and follows Skinner and Volesky through both real and mock trials as they discuss their Native American heritage, family legacy and why they’re passionate about criminal defense.

“I come from a legal background. My father, Ron Volesky, he’s a trial lawyer and a former politician. And he was key and instrumental in inspiring me to go down the path of law,” Volesky said.

Ron Volesky, Tyler’s father, was born on the Standing Rock Reservation and went to Harvard University for his undergraduate degree before returning to the University of South Dakota for law school. As a child, Volesky accompanied his dad to jury trials and immersed himself in his dad’s work, which he found fascinating.

“I come from a legal background. So, those kind of values were kind of instilled upon me as a young man. And I felt I had the talent to pursue it. And that’s what I’m doing,” Volesky said.

Like Volesky, Skinner is following in his dad’s footsteps when it comes to practicing law. His dad, Matt Skinner Sr., owns his own practice in Rapid City and specializes in criminal and personal injury law.

At first, Skinner wanted to study athletic training but found he wasn’t enjoying his studies. So, he switched to USD to pursue law after his mom reminded him how much he loved hearing his dad’s legal stories. That, combined with his ability to talk his way through any situation, pushed him toward USD.

“I’m a big talker. I like to have my voice heard about something that I believe in,” Skinner said. “So, that’s part of it is I’m… I like to be able to just really talk. Go out, go off on tangents and prove my point with my words.”

Both Volesky and Skinner are pursuing careers in criminal defense, like their fathers, and have participated in USD’s trial team that competes across the country in mock trials. Not only did the podcast episode highlight USD’s trial team but shined a light on an issue unique to South Dakota: Indian Law.

“In South Dakota, we have a large, Native American population. So, as a lawyer, if you want to be a good lawyer, not only do you have to understand the culture of those people, but to be able to empathize with them and represent and advocate them to the best of your ability,” Volesky said.

South Dakota is one of only a few states that includes Indian Law on the state bar exam and USD even offers a course on Indian Law that many students take during their studies. For both Volesky and Skinner, who are Native themselves, they have some background and experience in Indian Law.

“I’d see, you know, how sometimes they can get the short end of the stick in certain situations, and I want to be able to make a change in that whether it’s, you know, helping someone out of a bad situation or helping a child in a bad situation,” Skinner said.

For Volesky, whose father served as one of the lone Native American lawmakers during his tenure in the South Dakota Senate, the inclusion of Indian Law in his legal education is important.

“And I think the fact that we have Indian Law on our bar shows you how important that is to the state, and the fact that the legal profession here and the legal community and the law school, recognize and acknowledge that, and know that that’s a very important part of something you have to understand as a lawyer practicing in South Dakota,” Volesky said.

Experience in the courtroom

The podcast also explores the real experience both men are getting in mock and real trials during their time at USD.

Skinner works as an intern with the Minnehaha County Public Defender’s Office and the episode features live conversations he has with clients. The internship has given Skinner almost daily experience in court, allowing him to work past the nerves and hone his skills.

Skinner compares being a trial lawyer to being a point guard on a basketball team.

“When you’re the point guard, you control the ball. You bring the ball up the court. It’s kind of like that you are the point guard in the courtroom, when it’s your side of the case, and you are in charge of everything and how it goes,” Skinner said.

Volesky just finished his second year at USD and has competed in mock trials with the team. While some lawyers enjoy the research and behind-the-scenes part of the job, Volesky likes to be in the courtroom.

“But I just think that being in trial or being in a courtroom is the exciting part of law. It’s what fascinates people about the profession; it’s what movies are made about,” Volesky said. “I like to think I have a talent for it. It’s the part where you get to show your personality, your showmanship, your charisma. You get to perform.”

The hour-long episode features both Volesky and Skinner in their element in the courtroom showing what law students go through both in school and out in the real world.

“And that’s why I think this podcast is very instrumental in kind of showing the inside what it takes to get to that point, and the process behind it,” Volesky said. “But I’m very excited, once I get out of law school and hopefully pass the bar to be able to be in those situations where I’m in the courtroom, where I’m picking juries, and hopefully doing some good work in that field of law.”

The show also features Professor Laura Rose, the head coach of the trial team at USD. Both Skinner and Volesky spoke highly of the professor and cited her as the reason for joining and staying with the trial team.

As a recent graduate, Skinner is preparing to take the state bar exam next week and hopes to move back to Rapid City to begin practicing law with his dad. The pair will focus on criminal defense and personal injury and are thinking about moving into family law.

“And I’m excited regardless, you know, I think learning a new area of law. Like family law will be beneficial to me as well as the practice as a whole,” Skinner said. “And that makes it excited for the criminal law aspect because I understand it.”

Volesky is heading into his final year at USD and is already thinking ahead to next summer and the state bar exam. He’s excited to get more into criminal defense and hopes the podcast not only teaches people about the law process, but encourages younger students interested in law to look into law school.

“Criminal Defense is tough work. It’s part of the legal profession that might not be the highest paid area of law, but it’s essential. And it’s all about the process, and holding the constitutional values up,” Volesky said.

You can listen to the full podcast episode here.