Aaron V. Burrell: Rising to your Calling

Attorney Aaron Burrell of the Dickinson Wright law firm presented the keynote during WMU-Cooley Law School’s “Integrity in Our Communities” speaker series. Following his March 15 presentation, the law school honored him with the Integrity Award. The award is presented to legal professionals who demonstrate the highest integrity in their profession. LISTEN to or read below his talk entitled “Rising to your Calling.”

It was at Cooley that I first learned that the practice of law is more than just a job or a career.  When I decided to go to law school, I was uncertain of what kind of lawyer I wanted to be, the responsibilities of the lawyer, or what being a lawyer actually entailed.  I knew only a few things: that I wanted to seek an excellent legal education, that I wanted to provide for a future family, and that I wanted to make my family and my community proud.

When I arrived at Cooley 10 years ago, it became clear that what I was signing up for was not the chance for a good job, although that was part of it.  I realized almost immediately that becoming a lawyer is an all-encompassing transformation – the pursuit of a vocation that will intertwine itself into all aspects and areas of life.  It became quickly evident to me that the practice of law, in my estimation, is most appropriately considered a Calling – defined as a strong urge toward a particular way of life – as opposed to a career. It is almost as if becoming new person, one less interested in personal pursuits and more concerned with advancing the interests of others.

So the moment we are sworn in we assume the weight and responsibility exhaustively outlined in the lawyer’s oath; we begin a new journey, wherein our calling manifests itself in every aspect of our lives, including as a calling towards (1) the rule of law, (2) our clients, (3) our profession, and finally towards our community.

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So our first calling as lawyers is to the rule of law – which is why, not surprisingly, the first sentence of our oath mandates that we support the Constitution of the United States and the State of Michigan, and that we maintain respect to the courts of justice and judicial officers.

Our devotion to the rule of law must, therefore, take preeminent placement over and above every personal or individual interest.  I see our role as gatekeepers – ensuring both that the laws themselves are just – drafted to benefit the community upon which they govern and don’t arbitrarily identify a few selected beneficiaries; and that we also ensure that those laws are equally enforced, that no favorites are selected, and that every individual receives an equal chance in our courts.  Henry Ward Beecher said that a “law is valuable not because it is law, but because there is right in it.”  It is the lawyer’s job to ensure that every law ultimately has that “right in it.”

In everyday practice, this devotion manifests itself in a commitment to diligent research, ensuring fair and accurate interpretation of statutory and common law, and to ensuring that the parties and tribunal are appropriately apprised of the law.  In addition, I work to maintain candor with the Court – ensuring that I report honestly to the Court in all instances.

One of the most terrifying situations of my young career came at a moment when a client had failed to disclose all of the facts of a particular issue – and I in turn failed to report the full story to the Court.  If you were to describe the speed at which I worked to correct this situation as “lightning speed,” that would be an understatement.  Ultimately, the Court thoroughly appreciated my efforts to remedy the situation, and my client and I were able to achieve a good result through open and candid communication.

The rule of law is, quite honestly, paramount.  Jonathan Sacks declared that “true freedom requires the rule of law and justice, and a judicial system in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others.” And Justice Sonia Sotomayor echoed that sentiment, observing that the rule of law is the “foundation for all of our basic rights.”

We as lawyers must constantly remind ourselves that we must rise first to our calling to protect the rule of law with every occasion, to build upon its footing with every statement of candor to the tribunal, to secure its foundations with every fair and impartial ruling, and to solidify its underpinnings by ensuring that all citizens who enter our courts experience genuine equality under the law.

Our second calling is our calling to our clients.  Since I began practicing, I have made it my goal to continually and routinely ensure that the interests of my clients enjoyed a paramount priority in my life.  Many lawyers I know are often exasperated by client demands and feel that meeting those demands can often become a hindrance – an inconvenience on personal obligations.  Although I have sometimes had to rearrange things in my personal life – I constantly remind myself that I signed up for this!  That becoming a lawyer wasn’t accepting a 9-5 position – that if I were to truly embrace the calling, I would ensure that I provided clients with excellent client service, and that I worked diligently to ensure that their needs were met.

One of the most renowned lawyers in our nation’s history, Abraham Lincoln, observed in his Notes for a Law Lecture, that the “leading rule for the lawyer, as for the man of every other calling, is diligence.  Leave nothing for tomorrow that which can be done today.”  I try to live each day under that mantra.

The lawyer must be responsive to client needs, attentive to client concerns, and must ensure that in everything he or she does, the lawyer is acting in the client’s best interest.

In my practice, I have seen the unfortunate warring that occurs between the lawyer’s personal concerns and the lawyer’s concerns for their clients – their individual interests, competing with the interests of the client.

Indeed, when I first received my business cards at Dickinson Wright, I did not have a full appreciation for what the term “attorney and counselor” meant on the card.  The “attorney” part I understood.  “Counselor” was then unknown to me.  But as time progressed, I began to see how important we are as “counselors” to clients.  And becoming that counselor often requires us to diminish our personal concerns so that we can increase the concerns of our client.

As a younger associate, I never really knew why we would settle a case or why we would proceed to a trial. I always assumed that the lawyers on both sides were doing what was best for their respective clients.  I later realized that on occasion principle would override reason, and, sometimes even worse, greed or personal interests may override virtue and true justice.  Where the parties should have settled a case, the case continued – not for any good reason – but for the purpose of either increasing fees or settling unreasonable vendettas.

Now that I am in the position to advise clients directly, I make a conscious, unequivocal effort to place the client’s concerns above my own – to advise them that settling a case is the most appropriate course of action, will most effectively advance their interests, and most expeditiously resolve the dispute, irrespective of any competing concern.  I also attempt to serve as their counselor, helping clients to understand that the anger and resentment that informed their decision-making early in the litigation must sometimes subside to achieve the best possible outcome for all involved.

That great lawyer Abraham Lincoln said that we as attorneys should “discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbors to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has superior opportunity of being a good man.” He promised, and I know this to be true, that “There will still be business enough” with you serving in the role as peacemaker.

It is my goal to follow this position, and, in doing so, I hope to rise ever so slightly more toward our calling to our clients.

Our third calling is our calling to our profession.  It is often said that the practice of law is a “noble profession.”  But its nobility is only maintained through the daily efforts of those who work consistently to carry that mantle.

Our calling to our profession must begin with civility to one another.  In my limited years of practice, I have too often seen lawyers who, almost as a badge of honor, enjoy belittling and ridiculing opposing counsel.  I have seen lawyers who seemingly take pride in writing the most uncaring and spiteful communications to one another, as if to do so would garner some degree of strength or competitive advantage.

I have news for lawyers who believe that the more unkind and harsh you are the better you are performing – you are not.  In contrast, you are damaging yourself personally, your client’s position, and your profession as a whole.  These are the lawyers that make all the lawyer jokes true.  One of my favorite lawyer jokes, of course, is how many lawyer jokes are there?  The answer: only three.  The rest are true stories.

But by comparison, I admire those lawyers who go to great lengths to extend professional courtesy to one another: who will grant an extension when appropriate, who will offer the services of their office to another lawyer in need, who will embrace the bar’s call for collegiality.

These are the lawyers who will lead the bar, be examples to future generations of lawyers, and leave a strong legacy.  These lawyers aspire to our true “calling” to become peacemakers, mediators; calming the fires of disputes and not enraging them with our own malevolence.

Recently, I had an opportunity to represent a neurosurgeon in a matter.  The neurosurgeon was considering leaving his present practice for another practice.  He discussed the matter with his friend, another physician, who directed him to his brother in law – an attorney.  So the neurosurgeon called the attorney, showed him what was going on, and asked him a couple of questions.  The total interaction between the two individuals was approximately 10 minutes, the neurosurgeon thanked the lawyer for his time, they briefly discussed the brother-in-law’s family, and the neurosurgeon went on about his business, thought nothing of the conversation, and never acted on the substance of the discussion.

About a month later, the neurosurgeon received a bill from the attorney for nearly $600.  The neurosurgeon was puzzled, and inquired with the lawyer regarding why he received a bill. Keep in mind, the neurosurgeon never received an engagement letter, never received any correspondence from the lawyer, and never even knew what the lawyer’s hourly rate was.

Instead of the lawyer gently addressing the neurosurgeon’s concerns and attempting to work with him about the alleged attorney client relationship, the lawyer, the individual charged with the responsibility of absolving disputes and acting in the best interests of his apparent client and the public, began a nearly year-long campaign of harassing the neurosurgeon to recover the alleged $600 he was owed.  He then proceeded to file a lawsuit to recover these alleged fees.

Thankfully, I was able to tap into their collective cooler heads and bring this matter to a resolution.  Though as I sat in the courtroom, the court was hearing arraignments on the court’s television screen.  The first arraignment was for a young woman who remained incarcerated for contempt, primarily as a result of the inability to pay fees.  Most people paid little concern to these proceedings, but as I looked at my client, the neurosurgeon, I could see that he was quite moved by this young woman’s story.

After we put the settlement on the record, I shook the other lawyer’s hand and began to walk out of the court.  But as we approached the door, the neurosurgeon asked me, “Aaron, how do I pay for that young woman’s fees?”  I was understandably puzzled by this question – this neurosurgeon had to undergo nearly a year of torment from a lawyer who constantly hassled him regarding a $600 fee that many lawyers would have quickly written off.  Yet, not only did he no longer harbor any further ill will toward the lawyer – the neurosurgeon sought to pay a complete stranger’s fees, totaling an amount over the settlement we agreed to, to assist her in being released from incarceration.

I thought to myself: “what a remarkable instance of generosity.”  But I also thought more deeply: “which of these two individuals, the attorney or the neurosurgeon, most aptly exemplified the calling of the profession – to advance the cause of justice, to be a beacon of reconciliation and forgiveness?  It certainly was not the lawyer here; it was the neurosurgeon.

Lawyers should remain cognizant of their obligations to the profession.  Our actions in all regards can have an incredible impact on not only ourselves, but also how we are perceived by the public.  It is that obligation that will build the public’s trust in our profession and endear the public to us as a body.  We should routinely remind ourselves that the way we conduct ourselves, the way we approach situations, the way we delicately navigate often thorny circumstances reflects both on us, as well as our profession.

Finally, lawyers have a calling to our community, state, and nation.  Community, in my opinion, begins with ourselves.  We have an obligation to be our best selves, to be confident in our capabilities, and to become the best individuals we can be.  Your success as a lawyer is irrevocably tied to your own efforts, your own dedication to achieving higher heights, and your own commitment to becoming the best lawyer you can be.

Lawyers must then fulfill their calling to their families, knowing that all of the success in the world as a lawyer means nothing if you are regularly failing those who are most close to you.

Lawyers must lastly fulfill their calling to the society as a whole.  We are, by our very offices, leaders.  Without our prompting, people will look to us for direction, guidance, and counsel. It is incumbent upon us to rise to that calling and be the true embodiment of what it means to be a lawyer.

Drawing back on Abraham Lincoln, he once noted that harboring individual drive and desires is okay, but it may be a good idea to have aspirations beyond that.  He said that “every man is said to have his own peculiar ambition.”  But as for him, “he had none other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men, by rendering myself worthy of their esteem.”  (emphasis added).

We must, in all our actions, remember that we are working toward the lofty calling and vocation inherent in the law.  Are we perfect?  By no means. And we should accept the human fault present in all of us.  But as lawyers we are held to a higher standard, and we should work diligently to reach that standard.

Every morning as I sit at my desk, I say an affirmation from the lawyer, St. Thomas More, wherein he asked every day to be “trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, [and] ever attentive to conscious.”

He then asks that people around him find “friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duty, counsel in adversity, [and] patience in pain.”

That is the hallmark of the calling.  Working one day at a time towards the goal; seeking every day to rise just a little bit higher to the calling of the practice of law.

Thank you very much again for your time and for this wonderful honor.  I certainly appreciate it.

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Law school and journalists discuss Fake News: What can be done about it?

This story was written by Grand Rapids Legal News writer Cynthia Price and was originally published by the Legal News on March 24, 2017. It is reprinted here with permission of Detroit Legal News Publishing LLC.

It is difficult to find anyone who is in favor of what has come to be called “fake news,” but for some, the challenge it poses to truth and the rule of law is a subject they view as of overriding urgency.

Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School Professor and Auxiliary Dean Martha Denning Moore is one of those people.

At a panel discussion Wednesday hosted by WMU-Cooley and sponsored by the Michigan Capital Chapter, American Society for Public Administration (known as ASPA/MICAP), Prof. Moore led out with a fiery speech about the need to hold purveyors of news accountable for the information they put foward.

“Truth is not optional,” she said. “It is necessary for maintenance of our democracy. Not only will the truth set us free, it will keep us free. So, we can’t just go our merry way — we can’t be passive consumers of information.

“Truth matters. We must seek it, we must pursue it. Truth is not the same as the most persuasive argument, and it is not a merger of options. We have to hold people accountable for their actions.”

Moore knows whereof she speaks. Prior to joining WMU-Cooley, she practiced in legal ethics and legal malpractice defense as an attorney for Moore and Pozehl; before that, she was staff counsel for the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission.

A firm believer in a strong ethical system in the law and in life, Moore has published a number of articles consistent with her philosophy, including “Reclaiming Civility”and “The Ethical Duty of Communication.”

As Moore finished, Moderator Meegan Holland, herself a former journalist and now the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency Senior Policy Advisor, commented, “I love your passion.”

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Holland also noted that she agreed with Moore’s reluctance to use the term “fake news.” The title of the event, “Social Media and the Ethics of Fake News,” notwithstanding, both Moore and Holland said they find the term misleading, since it implies there are shades of truthfulness permissible in reporting.

The other panelists were both working journalists: Emily Lawler, a reporter for MLive who covered the Trump campaign in Michigan and currently has the capitol beat for the statewide news organization; and John Lindstrom, the long-time publisher of Gongwer News Service.

In his welcoming remarks, WMU-Cooley Dean and President Donald LeDuc noted, “I’m opposed to poor ethics in any context.” Also referring to himself as “an unrepentant former public administrator” (working primarily in State of Michigan offices), he thanked ASPA/MICAP for putting the panel together.

Then Dean LeDuc added more seriously, “Our country’s embroiled in the greatest test of our country’s structure since the Civil War. There’s never been a more interesting time to be a law student, or to be in government — certainly not to be in administration of the law.”

Lindstrom, a seasoned professional whose specialty publication is aimed at decision-makers and politicians, pointed out that, historically, there has always been fake news, including falsely staging influential events. What makes it different now is the ability to disseminate information immediately, and without the filter that fact checkers provide.

“From the standpoint of a practicing journalist,” he said, “there’s an old saying ‘If your mother says she loves you, check it out.’ That’s the essence of what we are supposed to do as an industry, and in many respects that’s really what we should do as citizens of a free republic, and, frankly, as adults.”

Lawler is more of the generation that grew up comfortable with social media, but she expressed dismay at what widespread use of Twitter and Facebook has done to her own profession, and the distrust that causes in the eyes of the general public.

She said, “One of the most enlightening articles I read, right after the election, was in the Washington Post. They profiled some producers of fake news, including those with a for-profit model. One man was pretty honest in admtting that he’d manufactured the story about Hillary [Clinton] supporters being paid to go protest at Donald Trump’s events.

“He made a fake ad looking for people to go interrupt Trump campaign stops on a couple Craig’s List sites, and then he manufactured a story based off his own ad.

“That was something that made it into the natural rhetoric, and Donald Trump made some nods to that in his speecies, including one I covered.”

Lindstrom also noted that over the past 20 years brain science has made significant discoveries about human’s cognitive function. He said these add to an exploration of why “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest,” quoting the Paul Simon song “The Boxer.”

When Holland asked whether it was likely that news outlets could be persuaded to eliminate covering, for example, Donald Trump’s early-morning tweets, Lawler gave a fairly subtle response: one of the effects of social media is that stories can become so widespread independent of traditional media that they require journalistic coverage, and debunking, in order to assure that any semblance of truth continues to exist.

Moore drew parallels to the legal profession. “One principle that’s critical to achieving justice is for people to ask, ‘Where is the evidence?’ As lawyers, we’re trained not to just take somebody’s word but to find and look at the evidence.”

About 30 people attended the event at WMU-Cooley’s Lansing campus, drawn from a variety of places. Some were WMU-Cooley students, some members of ASPA/MICAP, and a few were members of the general public who had heard about the panel. The questions posed were thoughtful and ranged in topic from the need for viable business models for news organizations to the potential for ongoing sanctions and punishment if news was found to be false.

Pictured from left to right: WMU-Cooley Professor and Auxiliary Dean Martha Moore; MLive Capitol Reporter Emily Lawler; Veterans Affairs Agency Senior Policy Advisor Meegan Holland and Publisher of Gongwer News Service John Lindstrom.

Pictured from left to right: WMU-Cooley Professor and Auxiliary Dean Martha Moore; MLive Capitol Reporter Emily Lawler; Veterans Affairs Agency Senior Policy Advisor Meegan Holland and Publisher of Gongwer News Service John Lindstrom.

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Preparing for the Multistate Bar Exam Just Got A Little Easier For Law Students

Preparing for and passing the bar exam is no easy task. Professors at WMU-Cooley Law School now have something new to help students do well on the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), a 200-question multiple-choice exam given in nearly every state.

“We take great pride in our students here at our Grand Rapids campus and how they have done on the Bar exam,” stated Associate Dean Nelson Miller, who leads that campus and its Bar Exam preparation. “We especially want every single student and graduate to do well on the Multistate Bar Examination component,” he asserts, “because comprehensive law knowledge is instrumental to practice success.”

To that end, Dean Miller and colleagues have recently published three new books on preparing for the Multistate Bar Examination. Volume I in the series offers four 100-question banks of specially designed practice questions, mixing all seven MBE subjects into each bank, just like the exam itself. The second volume offers seven 100-question banks separating each of the seven MBE subjects into its own bank, so that readers can practice each subject.

Beyond offering hundreds of new practice questions with answers and explanations for why each option is correct or incorrect, these two volumes have added value by being crafted in the same style as the MBE questions that test every topic and subtopic on the MBE.

“The examiners who draft the MBE publish a list of the exam’s roughly 350 topics,” explained Miller. “We figured, why not test every topic?”

In fact, the two volumes test every topic at least twice, keying each question, answer, and explanation to the MBE topics list. Those preparing for the MBE can now practice questions on every topic or on any topic on which they feel they need a test.

The effort didn’t stop there, though. Dean Miller explains, “In writing the hundreds of answer explanations, I realized that examinees might also benefit from a concise summary of the law on every MBE topic.”

So, the third volume in the series provides a summary page on each of the MBE’s approximately 350 topics.

“Law school, bar none, is the greatest intellectual exercise anyone can endeavor,” Miller contends. “Preparing for the Multistate Bar Examination is an extraordinary accomplishment and privilege. Anyone who does, deserves all of our support.”

The three legal preparation book volumes are available online at amazon.com and free in electronic form to any WMU-Cooley student or graduate.


Preparing for the multistate bar exam vol. 1Preparing for the Multistate Bar Examination: Multiple-Choice Strategies and Multiple-Choice Questions, Answers, and Explanations for Every MBE Topic and Subtopic (Volume I: All Subjects) (Crown Mgt. 2017) (authors Nelson P. Miller and Tonya Krause-Phelan);


preparing for the multistate bar exam vol. 2Preparing for the Multistate Bar Examination: Multiple-Choice Strategies and Multiple-Choice Questions, Answers, and Explanations for Every MBE Topic and Subtopic (Volume II: The MBE Subjects Separated Into Seven 100-Question Banks) (Crown Mgt. 2017) (authors Nelson P. Miller and Tonya Krause-Phelan);


Preparing for the multistate bar exam vol. 3Preparing for the Multistate Bar Examination, Volume III: An Outline of Every MBE Topic and Subtopic (Crown Mgt. 2017) (author Nelson P. Miller).


Are you prepared to take the MBE? Make sure you give yourself every advantage!

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Contracts quintessential first-year course: Law school professor makes his case

WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Otto StockmeyerBlog author WMU-Cooley Distinguished Professor Emeritus Otto Stockmeyer presented a paper at the 2017 annual conference of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts & Letters, held March 10, 2017, on the campus of Western Michigan University. He titled his presentation “Reflections on Teaching the First Day of Contracts Class.” Professor Stockmeyer offered his thoughts on why he believes Contracts is the most significant course in the first-year curriculum, why the study of contract law should begin with the subject of remedies, and why Hawkins v. McGee (the “hairy hand” case made famous by the book and movie versions of The Paper Chase) makes an ideal starting point.

In my view, Contracts is the quintessential first-year course. It presents an excellent introduction to the common law and legal reasoning. The course is foundational to several upper-level courses, and the best predictor of law school success.  Lawyers have reported that they use Contracts in their practice almost twice as much as any other law school subject.

Although traditionalists begin the course with offer and acceptance, there are both pedagogical and practical reasons to start with remedies. Studying remedies is not easy going for beginning students, who tend to hate working with numbers. But they tell me that they like difficult topics placed early in the term so they have longer to process the material.

The most important reason to start with remedies is the opportunity to begin the first day’s class with Hawkins v. McGee.

Here are my Top Ten reasons why:

10. The opinion immediately demonstrates to beginning students their need for a law dictionary. The first paragraph alone contains five legal terms.

9. The opinion shows how judges sometimes load their opinions with empty overstatements, such as “clearly” and “obviously” when the facts were neither.

8. The opinion demonstrates the process of analysis that courts employ when direct legal authority is lacking.

7. The opinion allows an early exploration of some distinctions between tort (medical malpractice) and contract (promise of 100 percent success) in a context readily understood by beginning students.

6. The opinion revolves around two of the central themes in Contract law: the objective theory of assent and the expectation objective of contract remedies.

5. The opinion is an excellent introduction to remedies and the difference between tort and contract damages.

4. The opinion illustrates that general principles are easier to state than to apply.

3. The opinion has more poignancy than the commercial disputes that will follow.

2. The case has a rich subsequent history that can be explored as time permits.

1. Three words: The Paper Chase. Many students will have read the book or rented the movie. They expect Contracts to begin with a study of the “hairy hand” case. Disappoint them the first day and they may question their choice of law schools.

The Paper Chase

The movie version of this law school classic contains two scenes that I’ve used in my class. The first is Professor Kingsfield’s ‘skull full of mush’ explanation of why law schools use the Socratic method. That needs to be addressed the first day.

The second is Kingsfield’s encounter with a student, Mr. Hart. After recapping the facts of Hawkins v. McGee, Kingsfield asks, ‘Now Mr. Hart, what sort of damages do you think the doctor should pay?’

I then would call on several students and ask whether Mr. Hart gave the right answer (no, he didn’t). The ice having been broken, another term of Contracts has been successfully launched.

Read the full text of Professor Stockmeyer’s paper on the Social Science Research Network.

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So, You Want to Be a Criminal Lawyer? Seven Things Your Law School Should Offer

krause-phelan_tonyaBlog author WMU-Cooley Law School Auxiliary Dean and Professor Tonya Krause-Phelan teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Defending Battered Women, Criminal Sentencing, and Ethics in Criminal Cases. She coaches national mock trial and moot court teams with the West Michigan Defenders Clinic and frequently appears as a commentator on numerous radio, television, print, and internet media sources regarding criminal law and procedure issues.

When I attended law school in the late ’80s, becoming a criminal practitioner was probably the least desired career choice a law student could make. At that time, many law students, law professors, and practitioners alike thought that the only people who would “settle” for a job as a public defender or as a prosecutor were those who could not get a job with a mega-firm or as in-house counsel for a Fortune 500 company.

Because I knew when I went to law school I wanted to be a public defender, I followed my passion instead of conventional wisdom. I was fortunate enough to land a job right out of law school as a public defender.  Eventually, I went into private practice, where I specialized in criminal defense. But, I never gave up my passion for indigent defense, and as a result, I continued to accept court-appointed cases. Throughout my many years of practice, criminal practitioners continued to be viewed as a sub-category of lawyers.

But, nothing could be further from the truth. Criminal practitioners are some of the most passionate, dedicated, and talented lawyers in the profession. After all, practicing in the area of criminal law is not for the faint of heart; it is one of the most demanding, challenging, and specialized areas of practice with clients’ lives and liberty literally hanging in the balance. With everything known today about DNA exoneration cases, mistaken identification cases, police shootings, and other systemic and ethical challenges facing the criminal justice system, people have changed their minds about public defenders, criminal defense lawyers, and prosecutors. Today people are actually deciding to attend law school for the specific purpose of becoming a criminal practitioner.

For those who want to become a criminal practitioner, they should look for a law school that does everything possible to adequately prepare its students for the rigors of a criminal practice. Whether a law school advertises itself as a “practice ready” school or not, several factors foretell a school’s pledge to preparing its students for criminal practice. Prospective law students interested in practicing criminal law should consider the following factors:

  1. Experienced Faculty: Professors who have practiced in the field are uniquely qualified to provide students with a practical context in which to learn substantive criminal law. Learn whether the professors who teach Criminal Law and Procedure practiced criminal law prior to becoming full-time faculty members.  Also, determine whether the school’s adjunct faculty are criminal practitioners. By hiring criminal law practitioners to serve as adjunct faculty, a law school demonstrates its dedication to keeping its curriculum current and relevant.
  2. Criminal Law-based Clinics: Ensure the law school hosts a clinic that focuses on criminal law, usually public defender or prosecutor clinics. Because many states allow students to work under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney, this type of clinical experience provides students with the ability to apply the knowledge and skills they have learned in the classroom to real-life, real-time clients.
  3. Innocence Project: Several law schools run Innocence Project programs. In these programs students have the responsibility to investigate and process cases for individuals who have been wrongfully convicted. Nothing speaks louder about a law school’s commitment to the efficacy of the criminal justice system than its commitment to representing individuals who should not have been convicted and need assistance in gaining their freedom.
  4. A Strong Skills-based Program: Law schools that are committed to developing strong criminal practitioners will also have a strong skills-based program. Look at the classes the law school requires students to complete. A curriculum that requires several research and writing, trial and appellate advocacy, and other skills-based courses demonstrates that the school is preparing its students for practice.
  5. Community Collaboration and Engagement: Look to see if the law school regularly engages with community organizations and events.   By hosting and participating in events that foster interaction with community organizations, local leaders, and members of the criminal justice system, a law school demonstrates a strong responsibility to fostering and improving an ethical and dedicated criminal justice system.  Look to see if the law school has hosted or participated in round-table and panel discussions, town hall-style meetings, and lecture series that include such people as police officers, judges, criminal practitioners, and experts within the criminal justice system.
  6. Proximity to Local Courthouses, Legal Community, and Organizations: If a law school is close to courthouses, law firms, and other legal entities, law students will more likely augment their educational opportunities by visiting local courthouse, watching trials and other legal proceedings, connect with members of the bar, and become student members of local bar organizations, events, and public service opportunities.  Observing how lawyers conduct cases helps students develop their own skills.
  7. Strong Alumni Base: Finally, many law schools provide prospective students with a list of alumni. Ask the law school to provide you with a list of alumni who are practicing criminal law and contact them. Not only can alumni answer questions about practicing criminal law, they can discuss whether the school adequately prepared them for criminal practice.  Ask their advice regarding which elective classes to take, clinics or externships to apply for, and which extra-curricular activities most adequately prepared them for criminal practice.

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WMU Broncos Hockey Team in NCAA Championship Tournament!

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The Law School salutes our  WMU Broncos ice hockey team in making the NCAA hockey championship tournament this year.  The Broncos are ranked 8th in the nation and are the number 2 seed in the east regional following an outstanding  22-12-5 season record on the ice.  Here are the tournament brackets.

We face off against Air Force in the east regional semifinal held in Providence, R.I. this coming Friday, March 24, at 7:30 p.m.  You can watch the game on ESPN 3.

Following WMU’s great football success this year culminating in an appearance in the Cotton Bowl, our hockey Broncos have brought WMU into the national limelight in a second sport this year!  It’s a great day to be a Bronco!

Bronco Hockey Heads to Providence for East Regional Semifinal Against Air Force

 

 

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WMU-Cooley Con Law Prof Brendan Beery on Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch hearing

Professor Brendan BeeryBlog author, WMU-Cooley Professor Brendan Beery, starts the discussion regarding the Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch hearing. Professor Beery, a summa cum laude graduate of the law school, teaches Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, and Criminal Procedure at WMU-Cooley Law School, and is a frequent legal expert in the media. LISTEN to Professor Brendan Beery as he speaks with WILS Radio about SCOTUS nominee Neil Gorsuch.

The Senate hearing begins today on the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for a seat on the Supreme Court. He will offer few, if any, answers about specific cases or issues. So look for senators to probe deeply into his broad approach to legal problems.

Conservatives will seek assurances that Judge Gorsuch is a reliable “originalist,” meaning that he anchors constitutional meaning to those times when the Constitution’s language was first adopted. Conservatives will also seek assurances that Gorsuch is a “textualist,” meaning that he adheres to a narrow view about words like “liberty” and “equal protection” in the Constitution. A textualist is less likely to seek out the broad underlying principles that animated constitutional rules, focusing instead on the narrowest meaning of those rules.

Liberals, on the other hand, will seek assurances that Judge Gorsuch is at least open to the idea of “the living Constitution” reflected in the organic view of the Constitution. Under this view, the broad language of the Constitution – again, words like “liberty” and “equal protection” – are seen as an invitation to apply evolving standards over time. Liberals will also be asking about broad notions of liberty and equality that animate broader constitutional protections for groups like women and the LGBT community. These broader principles also undergird constitutional protections for more controversial practices, like abortion, marital freedom, and private sexual conduct.

If he is true to the conservative leanings of the people supporting his nomination most vociferously, Judge Gorsuch will likely sympathize most overtly with notions of originalism and textualism.

If Judge Gorsuch is confirmed, the Court will revert to the status quo ante – meaning largely the same position, ideologically, where it stood before the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. The three oldest justices on the Supreme Court are two liberals and the Court’s swing vote, and were President Trump to replace one of those three, we would see an ideological shift on the Court.

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