Monthly Archives: July 2012

My Journey . . . using your externship to establish a network

Susan Zuiderveen

Susan Zuiderveen

 

 Susan Zuiderveen is a third-year Cooley student serving on an externship.  This is the seventh post in Susan’s outstanding series.

We have all heard how hard it will be to get a job in the legal field once we graduate.  As I am getting closer to graduation, it is now starting to worry me.  We work so hard to obtain our legal education and skills that it would be disappointing not to find the position we have our hearts set on. 

Many times our professors and mentors have told us how important networking is in obtaining that first position.  I always knew it was important, but I have not had the time to dedicate to networking like I need to.  My externship has given me the chance to network with others working directly in the legal field.  I have been amazed at the wonderful people I have met and how willing they are to help in any way they can.  Not only have I met four wonderful judges, but I have met prosecuting attorneys, criminal defense attorneys, probation officers, sheriff deputies, and law clerks.  All have helped me with anything I have needed while working at my externship, but so many have also given me great advice and names of people they know that may help me get a position as a prosecuting attorney.  Our county does not have any open positions at this time, but it is wonderful having them for a reference if one does open up or if there is a position in one of the surrounding counties.  I have also had the chance to meet and talk to several attorneys from different firms.  Some I have seen on a weekly basis, and I know I could call them for questions or advice after graduation. 

I underestimated how important an externship can be in helping achieve that first position.  Plan to do your externship in the city you want to work in, and use it to help establish a network of people you can call for advice or who may hire you.  I was amazed at how happy people are to help those of us entering the field they know and love.  Don’t underestimate the opportunites your externship can provide in bettering the odds of getting that first position we are all working so hard for!

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Cooley’s Down-Under Program Offers Equity & Remedies Taught By the “Problem Method”

By Professor Emeritus Otto Stockmeyer

Professor Stockmeyer has taught Equity & Remedies at Cooley since 1977 and at two other law schools during academic sabbaticals.  He is excited to be teaching the course in Cooley’s 2013 Australia-New Zealand Foreign Study Program using the “problem method.”  Here he shares his thoughts on why he prefers that way of teaching.

The mantra of a Remedies course is “no wrong without a remedy.”  Some Remedies courses are organized remedy-by-remedy (“Today we will discuss punitive damages.”).  In my view, a more practice-oriented approach is to study Remedies wrong-by-wrong (“Today we will discuss remedies for fraud.”).  That way students have an opportunity to compare and contrast the remedies available for a particular wrong (tort, breach of contract, misdealing, etc.).

I have also come to prefer the problem method of instruction for Remedies.  Instead of briefing cases and reciting them in class, students master legal doctrine by studying assigned readings in a hornbook.  Then, and most importantly, they attempt to apply what they have learned by analyzing problems similar to those that a law firm associate might be asked to prepare a memo on.  Class discussion consists of a collaborative, brainstorming approach to resolving the problems.

I think that the problem method has several advantages over the traditional case-recitation and lecture methods of teaching.  First, it is practice-oriented.  Clients have problems; lawyers research the law to help resolve them.  Second, it is contemporary.  A problem-based approach suits the learning styles of today’s students.  Third, it is engaging.  Students in second- and third-year doctrinal courses can be difficult to motivate.  The problem method encourages active participation.

The problem method is part of the movement toward Problem-Based Learning (PBL).  Medical schools pioneered PBL beginning in the 1960’s.  It has since spread to other professional schools here and abroad.  A review of the literature found that “PBL develops more positive student attitudes, fosters a deeper approach to learning, and helps students retain knowledge longer than traditional instruction.”

I have asked students to comment on my use of the problem method on course evaluation forms.  The running total is 75% favorable, 25% unfavorable.  Representative positive comments include:

“The law firm format made being called on less threatening (‘user friendly’).”

“The problem method took a while to get used to, but helped in learning how to apply the material to sets of facts.”

“I like the problem method better than reading all the cases.  Things seemed more clear.”

-and-

“Anything beats reading cases.”

If you think that you would enjoy studying Equity & Remedies by the problem method, locate your passport and enroll in Cooley’s 2013 Foreign Studies Program in Australia/New Zealand.  Meanwhile, the course TWEN home page is up.  View it at http://lawschool.westlaw.com/manage/homepage.aspx?openhomepage=y&courseid=25710 (TWEN sign-on required).

For more information on Professor Stockmeyer’s approach to teaching Equity & Remedies, see his 2010 article “An Open Letter to a Colleague Preparing to Teach Remedies” in the Thomas M. Cooley Journal of Practical and Clinical Law, available at http://ssrn.com/abstract=1743652.  

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The Journey Continues….an emotional day of sentencing

Susan Zuiderveen

Susan Zuiderveen

Susan Zuiderveen is a third-year Cooley student serving on an externship.  This is the sixth post in Susan’s outstanding series.

Recently I was able to attend 17 sentencing hearings.  As I watched, I realized how difficult it can be  for judges to make decisions and how their decisions affect so many lives in such a dramatic way.  Before our day started, the Judge shared the sentencing reports she reviewed over the weekend to prepare for Monday’s busy schedule.  As I read through them I was amazed at how many of the people had several past felonies and at how young so many of the people were.  Three young men were between the ages of 15 and 17 years old.  Most had not graduated from high school.  Some had violated parole and were coming in for sentencing because of their violations, and some were receiving their sentences after their trials.  I read through their files trying to understand what their backgrounds were and what was going on in their lives.  Some were involved in gangs and dealing drugs, and others had committed violent acts.  Most were repeat offenders.  The Judge walked me through her thinking about the sentencing and what affected her decision regarding each sentence and the guidelines that applied.  What an incredible learning opportunity!

As the defendants came before the Judge, she did her best to stress the importance of education for those receiving parole or drug education sentences.  She tried to stress the importance of turning their lives around so they would not appear in front of her again.  Most just said, “Yes Ma’am” and hung their heads.  Some of the people sentenced were brought in wearing the orange jump suit and handcuffs with several sheriff deputies standing guard.  Some asked through tears for lesser sentences; others smiled when they received less than they expected.  It was definitely an emotional day for all involved.

But what really touched me that day is that it was also a tough day for the Judge.  She listened intently to the defendants when they were given time to speak to her before they were sentenced.  They talked about how they had jobs they didn’t want to lose and that they had children they wanted to see.  For those who committed non-violent crimes or those who didn’t have as many repeat offenses, you could see the Judge thinking through all the information thoughtfully before she sentenced them.  The Judge seemed to have a harder time with these defendants.  It was definitely easier to sentence those defendants with the more violent histories or those who had several felonies on their record.  When we got back into the Judge’s chambers, I could tell she was exhausted and emotionally drained.

I am fortunate to have been allowed to participate in a part of the Judge’s job that I would not have had the opportunity to experience without this externship.  By allowing me into her thought process both before and after sentencing, I gained a tremendous respect and appreciation for the difficult decisions judges must make.  I also learned that even for someone who has been a judge for a number of years, it isn’t easy making decisions that affect another human being’s life in such a dramatic way.

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My Journey . . . “Hey, I know how to do that!”

Susan Zuiderveen

Susan Zuiderveen

Susan Zuiderveen is a third-year Cooley student serving on an externship.  This is the fifth post in Susan’s series.

I just finished observing my first murder trial.  I was very excited and looking forward to seeing the trial and learning everything I could.  I expected to fill my notebook with all the things I didn’t know or things to research.  I did take notes on the great questions asked and the different styles I observed from the two attorneys.  But the most exciting thing I took away was that I already know how to do so much of what I observed in the trial.

The trial was complicated with many players involved and many witnesses called to testify.  When there were witnesses that didn’t remember details from six months ago, the prosecutor when through the process of refreshing their memory.  It was the exact process I learned and practiced in my trial skills class.

There were also several pieces of evidence that were admitted in this trial.  I watched intently as the attorneys laid the foundation for each piece and admitted them as evidence for the jury to consider.  Again, both parts of a trial I have practiced repeatedly in my trial skills class.  Even when I watched the attorneys move the podium to face the jury during their opening and closing arguments and then move it back when a witness was testifying, I wrote down “attorneys moved the podium like I learned in class.”

I went into the trial expecting to write down everything I didn’t know.  But instead, I walked out at the end with the confidence that I already know how to do so many aspects of a trial, even a complicated murder trial.  I encourage everyone to sit in a courtroom and watch trials you may be interested in.  You will be amazed at how much you have learned and how confident and well prepared you will feel!

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My Journey . . . One Regret

Susan Zuiderveen

Susan Zuiderveen

 Susan Zuiderveen is a third-year Cooley student serving on an externship.  This is the fourth post in Susan’s series.

Now that I am several weeks into my externship, I have one regret.  I regret that I was not able to spend more hours per week at my externship.  Because I am a non-traditional student and I work full time outside of school, I was not able to take off more than twelve hours a week from my job to be at the courthouse with my field supervisor.  I wanted to write this to encourage everyone to plan in advance and dedicate as much time as you possibly can to do an externship. 

The time I have spent at the courthouse has been invaluable.   I have been able to observe all parts of a criminal and civil trial and I have learned an incredible amount.  However, I have not been able to view anything start to finish because I am only there part-time.  By viewing different trials in small sections I am missing out on a key learning opportunity.  Trials are stories, and how the attorneys tell the entire story to the jury is so important.  By only seeing small portions it is as if you are seeing small sections of several movies none of which are intertwined.  How the attorneys tell the story and intertwine all the facts is such an important skill to observe.  This can only be accomplished when you are able to watch the entire story.  I believe this is relevant for all types of externships, not just one in the criminal courts.  Seeing the story play out from start to finish is a valuable experience for any law student, and it allows a better understanding of the entire process.

My externship is definitely one of the highlights of my legal education, and I encourage everyone to take full advantage of doing one in your area of interest.  I also want to help others avoid having the same regret I do!

 

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