Author Archives: James D. Robb

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 Faculty Analyze Recent Use of Deadly Force by Police

WMU-Cooley Law School faculty have brought their scholarship and practice expertise to help students and the public understand the tragic events of Louisiana and Minnesota arising from police shootings of civilians they had stopped. They have recently appeared in media in Michigan and Florida on the circumstances under which deadly force may be used in self-defense or during an arrest.  Here are some of their thoughts, with links to their media appearances.

 Self-Defense Must Be Proportional to the Threat.

Tampa Bay Professor Karen Fultz appeared on Bay News 9 TV in Tampa to say that Karen FultzFlorida’s statutes define deadly force, in terms of self-defense, as akin to if when someone is approaching you and you believe that you will be harmed or killed by way of their approach, you have the right to use self-defense and the same amount of force that would be used by them.  What makes the particular incidents confusing is that police officers have training such that they should react differently than would ordinary citizens to the perception of deadly force threatening them.  Though they knew that the victims possessed a gun, the investigators or jury will still be called to assess whether their responses were reasonable.

Prof. Fultz cautioned that shortly following incidents like these, the public often does not have sufficient information in which to draw a conclusion as to what happened.  She pointed out that even the videos taken by citizens or by the police may not tell the whole story.

Citizens Must Comply With a Lawful Order When Stopped by Police, and Police May Use Force on a Compliant Suspect Only to Prevent Escape.

Grand Rapids Professor Tonya Krause Phelen commented on WOOD-TV in Grand Rapids about the rights and responsibilities people have when stopped by the police.  Citizens have the responsibility to comply with a lawful order of the police.  But in the Minnesota case, the early video evidence suggests the victim was complying with the police but was shot anyway.  The only time police can use force under such a circumstance is to prevent escape of someone who they have probable cause to believe presents a threat to others if he escapes.  Without that probable cause, his shooting could amount to a section 1983 civil rights violation.  Because so many people now carry weapons lawfully, Prof. Krause Phelen also suggested that police, local citizens and gun rights advocates begin a dialogue to address how police can effect police stops in ways that present less danger to the them or others when stopping a person who lawfully has a weapon.Tonya Krause-Phelan

Professor Krause Phelen also appeared on WXMI TV in Grand Rapids to elaborate on the duty of citizens when stopped by the police.  Police are trained and are supposed to be respectful at the outset, escalating their response only if the suspect resists.  Police are allowed to use deadly force, she repeated, only if the suspect is escaping and presents a danger of death or serious bodily harm to the officers or citizens in the area.

Body Cameras Worn By Police Are Beneficial Because They Add to Available Information About What Happened.

Tampa Bay Professor Jeffrey Swartz appeared on WFTS-TV in Tampa to point out that body cameras increasingly worn by police benefit both the citizens and the police.  Jeffery D. SwartzProfessor Swartz, who was a judge of the Miami-Dade County Court before joining our faculty, noted that videos taken by private citizens of an arrest or a police altercation often are taken after the fact or sometimes while the arrest is occurring, but they rarely depict what happend beforehand.  He likewise urged that people not rush to judgment, given that videos taken by citizens do not tell the whole story.


A Citizen’s Video Recordings Is Helpful and Legal So Long as the Citizen Does Not Interfere With the Arrest.

Lansing Associate Dean Christine Church commented on WILX-TV in Lansing about the responsibilities of citizens in taking videos of police action.  She noted how cellphone video has changed American justice.  Christine Zellar Church“Now we have videotape, rather than a he said-she said kind of testimony.  As a citizen, you have the right to record the police as long as you don’t get involved and interfere.” Dean Church added that “if it’s a bystander who is simply recording what’s going on then, that’s been held to have to be constitutionally protected by the First Amendment.”


Ultimately, the Analysis in These Cases Will Hinge on Whether the Police Officer Had a Reasonable Belief That His Life Was in Danger.

Dean Church also appeared on WKZO radio in Lansing to state that, in analyzing the conduct of a police officer, or even of a private citizen, who uses deadly force, the analysis will hinge on whether that person had a reasonable belief that his or her life was in danger.  What makes the Louisiana and Minnesota cases different from some previous police shooting cases is that in the most recent cases, both shooting victims had a firearm on them.  Thus, the question will be whether the officer had a reasonable belief to fear that deadly force would be used against him.  In ensuing investigations and lawsuits, the videos taken by citizens and possibly by police cameras will be a key piece of evidence to evaluate that question.

We Should Use Caution Before Drawing Conclusions About What Happened Until All the Evidence is In.

Grand Rapids Professor Devin Schindler appeared briefly on WWMT-TV in Grand Rapids to urge that we not rush to judgment.  Devin S. SchindlerHe noted that police are under much more of a microscope than ever before.  Yet we do not at this point know what the police officers in question were seeing, and so it is difficult at this early stage to evaluate whether these were justifiable shootings or not.


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Prof. Joe Kimble Is Right: In Legal Drafting Use the Word “Shall” at Your Peril

Robb PhotoJames D. Robb is Associate Dean of External Affairs and General Counsel at WMU-Cooley Law School.  


How often do you find the word “shall” in a contract or legislation you are reviewing? Have you wondered what precisely that word means? Or what the parties or legislature actually intended? Is “shall” a promise? Is it a command? Is it a declaration of determination? Is it a permissive term? Is its use clear to you?

Does it mean “must” as in a contractual promise?

 Seller shall maintain the property in good condition until closing.

Does it mean “will” as in a statement of future intent?

  I shall stop at the store on the way home from work.

Is it a statement of determination?

  I shall return!

Does it mean “may”?

  No pedestrian shall enter the intersection against the red traffic light.

Is it an invitation?

  Shall we go?

Obviously, the word “shall” has many meanings depending on the context. And often that context is clear. But consider what happens if the word shows up in a contract and is construed by a reviewing court to be ambiguous.

In fact, sloppy use of the word “shall” in a contract can be disastrous because a court that finds it ambiguous will construe it against the drafter. Our own Distinguished Professor Emeritus Joe Kimble, a leader of the plain language movement and one of the deans of America’s legal writing instructors, has pointed out how drafters use “shall” mindlessly. He has warned us that courts “read it any which way.” A recent important case bears him out, and even quotes him on the point.

In Orthopedic Specialists v. Allstate Insurance Company,  No. 4D14-287  (Fla. Dist. Ct. App.) (August 19, 2015), the Florida Court of Appeals held the word “shall” to be inherently unclear and ambiguous, particularly when used in the phrase “shall be subject to.” The court then construed the word against the insurer that wrote a policy for personal injury protection. Professor Kimble’s warning is quoted with approval in footnote 3 of the concurring opinion.

My abridged version of the Oxford Universal English Dictionary, published in 1937, devotes 23 column inches─more than two thirds of an entire page of blindingly tiny print─to the definition of “shall.”  That alone might suggest the word can be troublesome for those who need to draft with precision.

On a larger scale, Professor Kimble’s great book, Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please, demonstrates the undue cost and expense associated with forbidding, verbose, and unclear writing. I recommend it to you. In performing your own legal work, take his advice:  be precise. Write clearly and to the point. And when tempted to use “shall,” think again. Perhaps the words “must,” “will,” or “may” will more clearly, and more safely, express your intent.

Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please by Joseph KimbleProfessor Joseph Kimble

We welcome your comments by replying below.


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More Proof the J.D. Degree is a Great One to Earn

Here’s more proof of something we’ve known and been saying for years:  the J.D. degree leads to a fulfilling and lucrative career.  So says none other than Fortune magazine.


Fortune Magazine recently collaborated with PayScale to publish a study ranking the value of graduate degrees, finding that the J.D degree is the best non-STEM graduate degree anyone can obtain.

The rankings looked at three factors:

  • long-term outlook for job growth,
  • median salaries at mid-career, and
  • job satisfaction scores.

Here is what the researchers found:

  • Law school graduates placed second in the study for median salary at $138,200, based on salaries at mid-career or 10 years in.

  • The only graduates that earn more at that point are Ph.D. students in Computer Science.

Fortune’s analysis finds the best graduate degrees are in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). Statistics tops the list, followed by Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction and Physics. The J.D. degree is the only non-STEM degree in the Fortune top 10.

The study used data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to determine job growth.  From that data, Fortune is projecting substantial growth in the legal profession — 20.1 % — which is higher than all degrees except for a Master’s and Ph.D. in statistics.

Moreover, the study found that 71% of lawyers rate themselves as “highly satisfied” in their careers.

This study echoes our previous postings about the huge economic value of a law degree, how job prospects have been improving, how lawyer employment has jumped substantially, how the aging of the legal profession portends good job growth, and how, indeed, a shortage of lawyers is predicted.

If you combine these factors with Fortune’s findings, you will indeed see that now is a great time to start law school.

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WMU-Cooley’s Lansing Campus Is One of Nation’s Best Affordable Places to Live

Lansing is ranked as one of the nation’s best affordable places to live, in fact the fourth best of all, according to a major source on lifestyles nationally,  The site salutes the great value to be found in Lansing from housing and transportation costs to bargains with entertainment, shopping, and education.

Livability places Lansing at the top with other great cities, noting: “These budget-friendly cities offer lots of things to do and help families stretch their paychecks further. ”  It specifically highlights the outstanding culture and recreation our city has to offer:

With many restaurants, bars and music venues catering to the college crowd, residents can easily find great deals. Lansing City Market, which overlooks the Grand River in downtown, provides a lively setting for residents to procure farm fresh produce, artwork and crafts. Bike trails, walking paths and gardens tempt outdoor lovers to engage in the recreational activities Lansing offers. Kayakers are often seen paddling through town.



Lansing’s high ranking comes as no surprise to us.  As we wrote last year, Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s students, faculty, and staff have long enjoyed the benefits of living, working, and studying in Lansing.  We in the Lansing community share in outstanding cultural diversity, a host of arts and entertainment, wonderful recreational activities, great restaurants, major historical attractions, and, of course, abundant educational opportunity.  For a taste of the city, see the video This is My Downtown.

Come and visit Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s Lansing campus.  It’s a great place to learn the law.  We would be glad to show you around!


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Many Great Accomplishments in 2014


As the year 2014 closes, it is appropriate to reflect on the many accomplishments of Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School and the achievements of our students, alumni, faculty, and staff.  Here are just a few of the highlights that we posted into the media this year.


The Affiliation with Western Michigan University and Other Initiatives

We are now Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School. WMU has endorsed our great law school by advancing our relationship to formal, named affiliation status.  Students and alumni of both institutions will benefit greatly from this relationship.  The respective faculties and administrators are already working on a host of initiatives, including an accelerated “3+3” program, a legal studies minor, and offering first-term law school courses on WMU’s main campus starting in September 2015.  And the affiliation has been approved by our accrediting and licensing bodies.

We also obtained ABA approval for and opened our new foreign study program in Oxford, England to go with our outstanding programs in Australia and New Zealand and in Toronto.

 Accolades We Received This Year

National Jurist magazine rated the Law School as 17th best in the nation for practical legal training.

Best Choice Schools named our Auburn Hills building one of the 50 most impressive law school buildings in the world.

We continued with our cross-campus environmental sustainability efforts as this year the Tampa Bay building was certified as environmentally friendly by the CERF organization.

The Law School’s West Michigan Public Defender’s Clinic received the Community Spirit Award for its impact in the Grand Rapids community from the LINC Community Revitalization organization.

Associate Dean Joan Vestrand and three graduates of the School were named 2014 Leaders in the Law by Michigan Lawyers Weekly.  And Assistant Dean Tracy Brame and two alumnae were named to be among the top Women in the Law.  Deans Vestrand and Brame thus join 11 other Law School faculty and administrators who have received high recognition from Michigan Lawyers Weekly over the years.  No other law school comes even close to that level of recognition.  To top it off, WMU-Cooley Law School Board of Directors member Thomas Cranmer was named the 2014 Lawyer of the Year by Lawyers Weekly.

 WMU-Cooley Again Showed Its Commitment to Social Justice and Learning from Others

Collectively we made a real impact on the lives of others while enjoying many opportunities to learn.

Donya Davis was exonerated after serving seven years in prison for a crime he did not commit.  Our WMU-Cooley Innocence Project faculty and students worked six years to finally have him freed.  This story made national news

A refugee from Somalia, a Mexican father with four U.S. citizen children, and a refugee from Iraq gained release from federal detention through the work of our Immigrant Rights and Civil Advocacy Clinic faculty and students in Ann Arbor.  This story likewise gained notoriety.

We continued our tradition of fighting human trafficking in important ways.  Our Tampa Bay campus students and staff organized a program on the topic with the Hispanic Organization of Legal Advocates.  And on a more hands-on note, Tampa Bay students and faculty helped renovate a safe house for the Selah Freedom Organization, a group that works against sex trafficking and exploitation.

Literally hundreds of Lansing-area children – many of whom are underprivileged – spent a day of fun and food at Cooley Law School Stadium as part of our 14th annual Cooley for Kids Day.  For many, this was their first trip to a baseball game.  And the Student Bar Association organized a wonderful Day at the Park event for Lansing-areas children.

Low-income residents of Avalon Housing Project’s Stinson Apartments in the Ann Arbor area benefited from the work of students and faculty in planting flowers to make their living place a little more beautiful.

Three students were honored by the Law School with great Deeds Awards this year for their outstanding service to the community.  Marta Garland helped numerous charities and local organizations this year.  Sarah Miller was recognized for her efforts with Kids Hope USA and the Heart of West Michigan United Way.  And Keith Stickley was recognized for his pro bono bankruptcy and expungement work in conjunction with the Macomb County Veterans’ Treatment Court.

Judges from a number of courts came to the Law School this year to share their knowledge and experience with students.  Foremost was the Florida Court of Appeal, which held oral argument of cases at our Tampa Bay campus, allowing students the chance to observe outstanding appellate advocacy.

Michigan’s Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley spoke at the Auburn Hills campus to mark 2014 Patriot’s Day.

 Our Students and Faculty Accomplished Much

We are blessed with active and involved students and experienced and talented faculty who bring enormous energy and passion to the School.  Here are a few highlights.

The WMU-Cooley Law Review organized an important symposium on how the current economy has affected the practice of law in both the private and public sectors.  This symposium generated widespread publicity for the School.

Students and faculty collaborated with Michigan Attorney General Bill Schutte to create the Military Family Law Guide, a handbook for lawyers and judges about family law issues involving members of the armed forces.

Student Aaron Sohaski was elected national chairperson, and fellow student Samantha Jonas was elected governor to the Sixth Circuit, of the American Bar Association Law Student Division the group’s Board of Governors meeting in Charleston, S.C.

Student Porscha Brown was elected national secretary of the National Black Law Student Association.

Our chapter of the Delta Theta Phi national law fraternity received the honor of being selected to edit the fraternity’s annual law journal.

Professors Heather Garretson, Tonya Krause-Phelan, Jane Siegel, and Kara Zech Thelen together published in the Journal of Legal Education a leading article on effective teaching methods.

Professor Mark Cooney published a practical work on research and writing targeted at law students nationally in the American Bar Association’s Student Lawyer magazine.

Professor Michael McDaniel moderated an important national homeland security and defense education summit.

The Law School’s Auburn Hills campus and Professor David Berry hosted leading patent lawyers at the United States Patent & Trademark Office roundtable on patent review proceedings.

You can see many other examples of faculty accomplishment by browsing through past issues of our Benchmark magazine or by reading our latest issue.

 Our Alumni Continued Their Leadership in the Profession

Our alumni, now numbering more than 18,000, continue to achieve throughout the nation and around the world.

Nine of our alumni were named among 30 Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s “Up and Coming Lawyers,” which reported that they “have excelled in their profession and are standouts among their peers.”  No other law school came close in numbers to ours.

Graduates Tom Rombach (Morse Class, 1987) and Lawrence Nolan (Cooley Class, 1976) were sworn in as President and Vice-President, respectively, of the State Bar of Michigan.  And Kevin Robinson (Reid Class, 2006) became President of the West Virginia State Bar.  You can read more about these three gentlemen in the latest issue of Benchmark.

We wish you the very best for a Happy, Healthy, and Successful 2015!


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Students in Sixty Plus Clinic Reflect on Their Great Experiences

Kimberly E. O'Leary

Kimberly E. O’Leary is professor of law and director of WMU-Cooley’s Sixty Plus. Inc. Elderlaw Clinic.  She is a national leader in clinical education, including having served as chair of the Association of American Law Schools Section on Clinical Legal Education.  Prof. O’Leary writes that “My students are the bright light in the room, always, for me.” She shares with us some of her students’ reflections about their Sixty Plus Clinic experience.

One student noted the feelings a clinical student goes through:
It was like a switch clicked and all of a sudden you know what you’re doing.  The most important skill is patience – with clients, with learning, with systems.  The first term, I had PTSD:  post traumatic supervisory disorder.  It’s all about time and how to manage it.
Here are important realizations from another student:
They actually valued my opinions and my ideas.  I realized I can do it.  I realized certain areas I need to improve.  I learned how you can become the lawyer you want to be.
Another student learned that there is plenty of room for good lawyers, especially those who can work as part of a team:

I heard there’s too many lawyers.  There’s NOT too many lawyers.  Instead, there are so many people who could benefit from a lawyer who don’t have access to one.

Good lawyers find a way to get paid to help people who need them.

There’s work to be done.

I learned a lot about the elderly.

I’ve always been independent. I was nervous about working in a team.

I’ve learned how to work with people in a professional setting.

Yet another offered practical suggestions to future clinical students at the Law School:

·         Write down new ideas so you don’t forget them.

·         Be confident in your role as a lawyer.

·         Act like you know what you’re doing.

·         You don’t have to write a lot to write something good.

·         It’s OK to smile.

Here are some gems:
Silence is OK, and sometimes it is necessary.  I can interact with a client.  I can be creative, think outside the box.  I learned that issues often intertwine.  Knowing where to start . . . .  Explaining the law to clients.  Huge boost of confidence.  Preparation is key.

This student realized that a lawyer sometimes encounters difficult clients:

The client sometimes changes her goals.

After we communicated, the client who initially felt lost instead felt relief and appreciated what I had done for her.

I learned it is OK to ask for help.

Sometimes it is best to gracefully withdraw when you think a client is being unethical.

This student loved the experience of working with colleagues:
I loved bouncing ideas back and forth, exploring issues, putting everything together, getting different perspectives from classmates.  I learned better ways of communication and the importance of staying organized.
And this student exclaimed how she has learned what she wants to do upon graduation, adding some practice pointers for us:

·         This experience led me to my passion.

·         I want to be a solo practitioner in estate planning.

·         Discussing your ultimate wishes is a favor to your family.

·         I want to do Medicaid planning.


·         Don’t take anything at face value.  Investigate.

·         Take deep breaths, and rub your temples.

·         Opinion letters are your best friend.

·         Remember the grand scheme of things.

These students performed admirably in the clinic, learning not only the law but how to serve their clients with skill and compassion.  WMU-Cooley Law School is proud of their achievements.  If you haven’t yet taken your clinic or externship, a valuable and exciting time awaits you.  If you have, please share your experiences with us by commenting below or writing us at

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