WMU-Cooley Graduation Keynote Larry Nolan: The Wonderful Beauty of the Law is Change

The Tampa Bay campus of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School honored 43 graduates during a commencement ceremony held at University of South Florida’s Marshall Center on January 8, 2017.  Students received their diplomas during the ceremony for earning their juris doctor degrees. WMU-Cooley 1976 graduate, Board Chair, and State Bar of Michigan President Lawrence P. Nolan was the keynote speaker. Below is his speech and advice to the newly minted attorneys.

Four months ago, as President Don LeDuc mentioned, I was sworn in by the Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, Justice Robert Young. The Chief Justice prefaced his remarks prior to swearing me in by stating that I would be the last State Bar President that he would be swearing in. He didn’t elaborate.

The official news hasn’t hit the streets yet, but I suspect that you will be reading very shortly that a new justice will be elected as Chief Justice of the Court. It signifies to me that every journey started eventually comes to an end. We are constantly reminded that nothing lasts forever. It seems like my journey as a lawyer is always just a beginning, as an old chapter is laid to rest. I recall sitting where you are sitting here today.

I found the joy in graduating from law school in the first class at Cooley in Lansing, Michigan, back in January of 1976. But the joy was not in just getting law school over with, but rather in reaching my goal to become an attorney. Becoming an attorney was a goal that I had set early in my childhood, maybe not unlike many of you. Congratulations! You have now succeeded in so many ways to reach your goal. You have sacrificed a lot to get here.

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Remember, however, it’s not about just reaching a goal. The journey continues. You will continue to be challenged. The bar examination is next. Winning your first trial may be just around the corner. Writing your first brief, your first appeal, your first complaint, are all first encounters along the journey. The joy of being a lawyer is that the journey really never ends. It just continues to change along the way.

The only one thing constant in being a lawyer I can tell you is change. Adaptability is the key to survival. Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” The wonderful beauty of the law is change. You will always be challenged to think, and to use the foundational building blocks that you leave law school with to be thoroughly analytical.

As you already heard, I was admitted to the first class of Cooley Law School back in January of 1973. It was a night class. Everyone had eight to five jobs during the day. I had the good fortune of getting a job as a law clerk working for the only minority law firm in Lansing. A year or so later, I was able to get a job as a security officer in the Michigan Court of Appeals. I never lost sight of the big prize. I was focused. I was determined and I was happy. I felt like I had never learned so much, especially after my first semester. Then again, after my second semester and then I realized that going to law school and being a lawyer was a continuum of learning. That, my graduates, is the journey.

After graduating in January 1976, I went into practice on my own immediately. Much has changed from that date, now more than 41 years ago. I was appointed to the Thomas M. Cooley Board of Directors in 1984. I have served continuously for the past 33 years. I was elected Vice Chair and then Chair of the Board approximately six years ago. I always considered it a privilege and a gift to serve. I am, and have always been, a big proponent of access to legal education. Cooley’s admission policy allows that mission to exist and be flexible enough to meet the individual student needs.

I got involved in my local Bar Association politics and then eventually in State Bar Association politics. I felt like I had a duty to let people know that Cooley Law School produced lawyers with a legal education second to none. I was on a mission. Nobody was going to talk about Cooley Law School not being as good as the other law schools in the state or the country.

But enough about me. This is not about me. This is not my day. My day in the lights was four months ago. It’s now time for me to carry out the most sacred goals of this great profession at, not only the state, but also at the national stage. Today is your day. No one else’s. Today is special, for you have reached a goal in your journey of becoming a lawyer. In just a few moments you will receive a paper called a degree. President LeDuc and I have signed that piece of paper certifying to the world that you have become an attorney. Enjoy it. Bask in the bright lights. Go out for dinner with family and friends, for tomorrow comes only too quickly.

Tomorrow it is time for you to go to work. It’s time on the continuum of becoming a lawyer to your journey of studying for the Bar exam. You cannot over-study for the Bar. There is no such thing. And you cannot begin to continue this journey too soon. Someone once said “The nicest thing about the future is that it always starts tomorrow.” Your future is tomorrow. You owe it to yourself and everyone, including me, President Don LeDuc, and this distinguished faculty, to pass the Bar exam on your first attempt.

My father was one of 13 children growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the early 1900s. They had no I-Pads. They had no cell phones, knew nothing about blogging, tweeting, Facebook, YouTube, match.com, or instant messaging. He immigrated to Quebec at 14, then to Montreal, then Windsor, and eventually the United States. Nothing was easy for him or my mom. He was not formally educated with degrees, diplomas, and the like.

He did have, however, several sayings that stuck with me through my life. One of my favorites was “Keep your nose to the grindstone” and “Don’t get mixed up with no rubby dubs!”

For years, my siblings and I debated the true definition of a “rubby dub,” only to ultimately conclude that it meant someone who couldn’t comprehend or appreciate what you were doing. In essence, work hard to attain your goal, and don’t get sidetracked. Another one of my favorite sayings is, when he would tell me that, “When the circus comes to town, don’t let the man with the balloons go by.” Think of that. So when you have struggled and sacrificed, and have reached your goal, take advantage of the preparation and excitement of being at the circus because one the balloon man goes by, the next time that you see him again is when he is all out of balloons. Seize the opportunity. It is here. It is now.

My dad never graduated from high school, but he always was prepared for the time that opportunity presented itself. Nothing, and I mean nothing – not talent, not intelligence, not high LSAT scores or GPA, not money or influence, will ever take a higher place in your life than preparation. Preparation, yes preparation, will allow you to pass the Bar exam. There is no substitute. It will serve you well through life to be better prepared in knowing the facts, in knowing the law, and in knowing and understanding people.

Secondly, “When you get there, remember where you came from.” Third, a Winston Churchill quote that’s one of my favorites, “Never, never, never give up!” Giving up is not an option for you. I said, giving up is not an option for you. You have come too far. You have sacrificed too much. You leave here with a special degree. Make those who supported you all these years proud.

More importantly, make yourself proud of who you are now, what you have become, and know that you are in a special place. Congratulations, and good luck. You are the future of this great profession. I’m very proud of all of you. Good bye. Do good and great things, and accomplishments will be your personal and professional reward.

God speed, and may the words of an old Irish blessing be always with you.

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warmly upon your face.

And the rains fall softly upon your fields,

And until we meeting again,

May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

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Is the President immune from conflicts of interest? Con Law Prof explains what the Constitution says

There’s been much national debate and discussion over whether or not the President of the United States is, or is not, immune from conflicts of interest. WZZM-TV recently interviewed Constitutional expert and WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Devin Schindler about what the Constitution says and to explain and interpret the Constitution in terms of conflicts of interest. Watch the interview here.

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schlinder_devinProfessor Devin Schindler is a frequent commentator on numerous Constitutional and healthcare issues, having been interviewed over 200 times by radio, television, print and internet media sources.  His comments have appeared in Time Magazine, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and numerous local media outlets.  For 15 years, Professor Schindler hosted his own radio program, “The Constitution among Friends” on WGVU public radio. He is a frequent author and has made hundreds of speeches on constitutional law issues and health care compliance. He most recently published articles in the Whittier Law Review, Case Western Reserve’s Health Matrix: Journal of Health-Medicine, and in Quinnipac Universities’ Health Law Journal.

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Finding Oneself on the Other Side of the World

The Northland region of New Zealand is full of legends and stories significant to Kiwi culture. Professor Kimberly O’Leary got to recently travel in the Northland region. She embraced the land – rich with beauty and meaning. Despite the possible difficulty to traverse the mountainous, hilly New Zealand terrain, she and her husband forged ahead to conquer Mount Manaia, located in the Whangerai Heads, like so many other travelers do each year.

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The hike, consisting of over 1000 stairs, makes a short but steep trail through New Zealand bush, ferns, mangrove trees, and blooming flowers. The mountain is the remnants of a volcano that erupted 20 million years ago. At it’s top are five vertical stones that can be seen for miles around. Legend says that Chief Manaia, the Chief’s children, a rival Chief, and the rival Chief’s wife all turned to stone by the God of Thunder.

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The hard climb was well worth the hardship and time.  Professor O’Leary and her husband were rewarded at the top with stunning view of the bays and the surrounding area. Travelers also enjoy the walk through the tropical bush,  replete with birdsong and the magnificent blooms of the Pahutakawa trees, often called by locals as the New Zealand Christmas tree due to its bedazzling red foliage during the holiday season.

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The nearby Bay of Islands is considered the birthplace of New Zealand; home to Maori origin legends and the first Maori encounters with western sailors. Professor O’Leary ventured out by boat, traveling past the black rocks, nesting sea birds, beautiful islands, several pods of dolphins, and the famous Motu Kokako, also known as the “Hole in the Rock.” Motu Kokako represents strength through adversity after all it had endured to withstand the sea. The Urupukapuka Island water is so clear and translucent that you can see all the way to the bottom. All are treated to another stunning view of the bay, blooming pahutakawa, and jacaranda trees after a climb to the top.

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The trip to Cape Reinga had a breathtaking view of 90 mile beach. The Cape is at the upper most tip of New Zealand, and the place where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean. The Maori believe this spot is the place where souls leap into the afterlife. Along the Tasman Sea coast, unspoiled beach extends for dozens of miles. It is said that the beach is 90 nautical miles from the Cape to Dargaville, hence the name “90-mile beach.” You get to ride a special “dune bus” about 40 miles on the sand of this beach.

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Also in the region is the largest known living kauri tree. Kauri trees existed along with dinosaurs, formerly growing all over the world. The only living kauri trees are now in New Zealand, with sub-species growing in Australia. These trees are known for growing very large – second only to giant redwoods. They were harvested aggressively in the 19th century, and are now protected. The largest living tree is called Tane Mahuta, which is a Maori name meaning “Lord of the Forest.”

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Tane Mahuta is estimated to be between 1500 and 2000 years old. Ancient fossilized remains of these trees produces amber, and speculators came from all over the world in the 19th century to mine for amber. Tane Mahuta grows in the Waipoua forest – a protected forest of native trees and plants and a special place.

Finding herself in the midst of ferns, birds, mountain tracks, dolphins, volcanic formations, the meeting of oceans, unspoiled beach and towering ancient trees, Professor Kimberly O’Leary found her own center, clear on the other side of the world.20161218_112110

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New Students Take “Mannequin” Stand During Law School Orientation

WMU-Cooley incoming students decided to “take a stand” on day two of their law school Orientation – for the fun of it. Forget talking heads. New students took the Mannequin Challenge in its 26,000 square foot Tampa Bay campus library. It was clear that everyone understood how to be quiet in the library!

Law students learned about the library’s many resources, including having over 34,000 library books and about a dozen study rooms. They also learned about each other.

WMU-Cooley’s Campus Director Dionnie Wynter thought a Mannequin Challenge would be a great way to immediately break down barriers and build trust and bonds between new students.

“It was a wonderful exercise,” exclaimed Wynter. “You could feel everyone was into it and felt like they were part of a team. Truly, each student could have been standing next to their new best friend, a future business partner, or someone who would refer them to a potential client. I know. The relationships you make in law school are ones you have your entire life. Law school is one of the most life changing and meaningful experiences one could ever endeavor.”

Even though law school can be, at times, a daunting task, added Wynter, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun, and one of the best decisions you will ever make.

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Professor Christi Henke Personifies Griffith Award Tribute

The Frederick J. Griffith III Adjunct Faculty Award recognizes “that member of the adjunct faculty whose service best reflects the character and attributes of Professor Griffith: dedication to the law school; excellence in teaching; passion for persuasive advocacy; compassion for law students; and optimism about life and the future of legal education.” To show our gratitude, WMU-Cooley pays tribute by honoring one of them with this annual award. They are the unsung heroes of legal education. 

Griffith award winner Professor Christi Henke with Rick Griffith’s widow Margie Griffith.

Past award recipients have included judges and state officials, Assistant Attorneys General and local prosecutors, defense lawyers, solo practitioners and big-firm partners, corporate house counsel, and even a Canadian barrister.

This year’s recipient,Christi Henke, has taught Contracts I and II since 2008. She has also taught Sales, Agricultural Law, a Multi-state Bar Exam Skills course, and trained professors in both Contracts I and II.

About a year and a half ago, Professor Henke started teaching Con Law I, and this term is teaching Con Law II.  One term she taught five classes on three campuses! (Grand Rapids, Lansing, and Auburn Hills).

As hard a worker as she is, it is the quality of her teaching that makes her shine in the eyes of her students. Over the years, Professor Henke’s teaching effectiveness score on student evaluations averaged a superlative 9.87 out of 10.

Associate Dean Michael McDaniel shared these sentiments from her evaluations:

  • She provides her students with the tools to succeed in law school.
  • She affords each student the opportunity to ask questions and seek guidance both in the classroom and individually.
  • She shows tremendous compassion for students.
  • She encourages students to be passionate about the law.
  • She prepares her students for success in a legal career.

RateMyProfessor.com gives Professor Henke high marks as well. She has been tagged as:

  • Respected
  • Gives good feedback
  • Caring
  • Amazing
  • Hilarious

Overall, she scored 4.8 on a 5-point scale for “Awesomeness” and was awarded a Chill Pepper for Hotness!

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WMU-Cooley Law School established the Frederick J. Griffith III Adjunct Faculty Award in 1997 as a memorial to Rick Griffith, and to recognize the contributions that WMU-Cooley’s adjunct professors make to the mission of the law school. Rick Griffith was a former Michigan Supreme Court Commissioner, and practiced law Of Counsel with the Lansing firm of Murphy, Brenton & Spagnuolo, while teaching at Cooley as an adjunct professor for nearly two decades, until his untimely death at age 52.

The award was endowed by contributions to the Griffith Memorial Fund made in Rick’s memory by his family, friends, associates, and faculty colleagues. The award carries with it a cash stipend and a memento recognizing the recipient’s selection. The memento is a commemorative ceramic tile created by Detroit’s renowned Pewabic Pottery, commissioned specifically for this award.

From left: Distinguished Professor Emeritus Otto Stockmeyer, Griffith Award winner Christi Henke, Associate Dean Michael C.H. McDaniel, Rick Griffith's widow Margie Griffith.

From left: Distinguished Professor Emeritus Otto Stockmeyer, Griffith Award winner Christi Henke, Associate Dean Michael C.H. McDaniel, and Margie Griffith.

Blog contributor Distinguished Professor Emeritus Otto Stockmeyer began his teaching career at Cooley Law School as an adjunct professor in 1976. Over the years he has also taught as a visiting professor at Mercer University Law School and California Western School of Law. At one time, before entering teaching, he was Rick Griffith’s supervising attorney at the Michigan Court of Appeals.

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New Year Brighter for Wrongfully Convicted Michigan Citizens

When the state puts an innocent man or woman behind bars, it has the obligation to financially support that person’s reintegration into society. For over a decade, state Senator Steve Bieda has sponsored legislation to compensate Michigan citizens who have been wrongfully convicted at the hands of the state. On December 21, Governor Rick Snyder signed into law the “Wrongful Conviction Compensation Act.”

Michigan State Sen. Steve Bieda and Rep. Stephanie Chang working to help pass legislation to compensate Michigan citizens who are wrongfully imprisoned.

Michigan State Sen. Steve Bieda and Rep. Stephanie Chang working to help pass legislation to compensate Michigan citizens who are wrongfully imprisoned.

Senate Bill 291, sponsored by Bieda, provides $50,000 for each year of incarceration to individuals convicted and imprisoned for crimes they did not commit, House Bill 5815, sponsored by state Representative Stephanie Chang, provides the reentry services to exonerees. The measures are now Public Acts 343 and 344 of 2016.

Exonerees will now be eligible for the same reentry services that Michigan parolees receive.

  • Reentry services consistent with the services received by parolees for up to two years following the date of discharge.
  • Reentry housing consistent with the traditional housing provided to parolees for up to one year following the date of discharge.
  • Assistance in obtaining vital documents, including state identification.

Exonerees previously received no assistance from the state after their wrongful conviction.

Michigan joins 31 other states, the District of Columbia and the federal government in providing compensation to the wrongfully convicted. Receiving compensation will not be automatic. Exonerees must file their claim in the Court of Claims and prove their innocence by clear and convincing evidence.

Public Acts 343 and 344 will help Michigan exonerees reintegrate back into society and improve their quality of life. You can never fully compensate someone for his or her wrongful conviction, but you can do what is just and right. The new law is a step in the right direction, bringing renewed hope for a fair and caring criminal justice system in the new year.

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WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon with exoneree Donya Davis.

WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon with Donya Davis.

The author, Marla Mitchell-Cichon, is the director of WMU-Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project.  She was honored in fall 2016 with the State Bar of Michigan’s Champion of Justice Award and Ingham County Bar Association’s Leo A. Farhat Outstanding Lawyer Award. She led the efforts for the release of WMU-Cooley Innocence Project’s client Donya Davis. Davis was wrongfully convicted of carjacking, armed robbery and rape in 2007. Davis was exonerated in 2014, and is the third client exonerated by the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project. The Project is currently working on 15 promising cases and screening approximately 200 cases for factual innocence.

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WMU-Cooley Professor Travels to Teach and to Learn

Travel is an exciting and artistic expression of life-long learning, but, for me, it extends to giving back through teaching and sharing knowledge. Looking back on 2016, I was very fortunate to travel to New Zealand and Australia to direct and take part in teaching WMU-Cooley Law School’s Down Under Study Abroad program. I also got to travel to Toronto, Charlotte, N.C., and Alexandria, Virginia, and my home state of Michigan to participate in educational conferences. 

Beyond travel, I believe an educator should do these three things:

  1. Teach what they know to the public and lawyers, as well as to their students
  2. Learn best practices in their fields so they can teach best practices
  3. Connect with professionals to better educate their students

Conferences can be a great way to give back while learning. At the summer 2016 International Journal of Clinical Legal Education conference in Toronto, I got to present and meet up with my fellow Monash clinical professors I met during my time earlier that year in Australia. The conference, The Risks and Rewards of Clinical Legal Education Programs, allowed me to share what I have learned as a clinical professor, while learning from other clinical professors around the globe of their experiences.

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In the fall, I presented a paper, along with colleague Professor Mabel Martin-Scott and law school professor Joni Larson, at the Southern Clinical Conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. The topic of our presentation was “Mapping the Learning Outcomes to the Law School Curriculum Using Case Progression.” We outlined how a law school can create learning outcomes based on a student’s ability to represent a client, rather than on more traditional academic goals.

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Later that fall, I presented an ethics topic to legal services lawyers in Michigan, along with co-presenter Alison Hirschel, director of the Michigan Elder Justice Initiative.  The two of us, along with Syracuse University School of Law faculty Mary Helen McNeal and Nina Kohn, then presented that same topic to lawyers at the National Aging and the Law conference in Alexandria, Virginia, outside Washington, D.C.  Our topic, “Three’s a Crowd: Representing Clients with Legal Representatives,” tackled a difficult ethics topic and gave elderlaw attorneys an opportunity to apply the information we provided to real-life scenarios.

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I am proud to say that all WMU-Cooley faculty are active scholars and educators, at the law school and in the community of lawyers and professionals.  

WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Kimberly E. O’Leary is back this year in New Zealand and Australia to direct law school’s Study Abroad program in New Zealand and Australia after teaching the program last year. The experience was unforgettable for all, and she will again share her students experiences Down Under in 2017!

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