UM Student Chases American Dream Through Law School

As a child, UM law student Tom Kovari moved with family from Hungary to the United States to escape Communist rule. Earning his law degree, he said, proves the American Dream is alive.

MISSOULA – As a child, University of Montana law student Tom Kovari and his family moved from Hungary to the United States to escape communist rule. Growing up he lived in New York and Washington, D.C., and as a young adult all over the East Coast, chasing the American Dream.

Shaped back then by the Western novels of German author Karl May, Kovari knew even as a youngster that the American West, and its spirit of rugged individualism, would one day be his future. 

“Once you visit the Mountain West, the East Coast feels like a sardine can,” said Kovari. “I wanted to move somewhere with open spaces.”

His opportunity came with the oil fracking boom in the Bakken fields of North Dakota, which drew workers from all over the country.

For Kovari, though the best way to get a job in the Bakken as a white-collar guy was to become a truck driver. He signed up for driving school, and within a few months he had his commercial license, quit his job at a bank in Falls Church, Virginia, and moved to Sidney, Montana, and started to earn money in the oil field.

Kovari spent long hours driving back and forth hauling supplies to oil wells. Money was great, and he was making a good living. However, things can change quickly in the boom-and- bust cycle of oilfield work. The price of oil dropped, and it was time to take his savings and move farther west.

Kovari ended up purchasing some property near the entrance of the Bob Marshall Wilderness area in Augusta, Montana, when he realized the eastern side of the Rocky Mountain front was, and still very much is, a frontier.

“In the area stretching from Wolf Creek to the Canadian border, outside of tourist season, you were more likely to encounter an elk or a bear than a person,” he said. “This is Russel Country, one of the last remnants of the Old West.

“I purchased an open field near town,” he added. “Then I started to build my house in the frontier tradition. I was living the pioneer dream I had read so much about.”

Needing to support himself, Kovari found work hauling fertilizer across Big Sky Country. As he traversed Montana meeting farmers, he felt a connection to the people and the challenges that come with living from the land. Kovari started to wonder if there was something more he could do for this tightly knit community.

“I took the LSAT just to see how I would do,” said Kovari. “My scores were high enough that I could get in to law school.”

Kovari enrolled in the Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana. With a background in oil, gas and agriculture, his perspectives were welcomed in the classroom. This is where his new path started to emerge.

“Truck driving was great, but I wanted something more cerebral,” said Kovari. “I had great interest in learning about agriculture law. I dove into administrative rules and learned everything I could to best serve the ag community.”

Law school students are required to work within a supervised clinic setting to get hands-on training before they graduate. For Kovari, that meant an opportunity to work for the Montana Department of Agriculture in Helena.

“Three years ago, I was sitting in the cab of my truck driving down the highway with a load of fertilizer,” he said. “Now I’m working across from the Capitol Building in Helena, helping with policy issues that affect farmers and ranchers throughout Montana.”

Kovari attributes his background as an asset to working in the legal space. His experience gives him more perspective on the challenges facing the agriculture industry.

“I’m fascinated by the way different federal laws around agriculture affect farmers and ranchers in the state,” he said. “These are people in my community. Everyone in farming and ranching is connected.”

Kovari credits the analytical skills he acquired in law school with helping him work with various stakeholders.

“There are a lot more than two sides to an issue,” he said. “You have to look at multiple perspectives when solving complex problems.”

Now that he is graduating, Kovari’s plans are taking shape.

“I want to hang my shingle in Augusta,” said Kovari. “This way I can live on my property and still help farmers and ranchers.”

Kovari says he is practicing law to help families who may not have the resources of major companies. “I want to help protect the rural way of life,” he said. “There is nothing more rewarding to me than helping underserved farming communities.”

“I’m grateful to have this opportunity,” Kovari added. “The American Dream is very much alive in the last vestiges of the American Frontier. Here you do what you want, you can be what you want to be.”


Contact: Phil Stempin, director of events, marketing and communications, Alexander Blewett III School of Law, 406-243-6509,