Category Archives: Faculty Scholarship

Cooley has one of the largest and most experienced faculty in the nation. Faculty members come to Cooley with years of experience in the practice of law. They combine “real world” knowledge with exceptional academic backgrounds. The full-time faculty make Cooley an outstanding legal education program. They are professionals dedicated to the ideals of practical legal scholarship and academic excellence.

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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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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Switching Law Firms: When Greasing the Sticky Wheel Is a Good Thing

The Grand Rapids Business Journal just ran a story at this link on the move of a prominent local mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer from one branch office of a national law firm to open another branch office of another law firm.  The story, quoting the law school’s own practice-management expert, highlights when, why, and where prominent lawyers move from firm to firm.

WMU Cooley Law School

First consider the general value of lawyers moving from firm to firm.  Labor economists rue the stickiness of labor markets.  When the economy is poor and unemployment high, workers tend to hold onto jobs even when moving to a new job would better use their skills while soon earning them more income.  A sticky labor market is inefficient.  Worker movement facilitates economic growth at the macro and micro levels.

The same is true for lawyers.  A lawyer who moves to another firm probably sees greater opportunity for growth at the new firm.  Work satisfies most when it uses the full capabilities of the worker.  Lawyers, like other workers, want challenges.  We like to learn new routines and build new practices.  The tireless ambition of a masterful lawyer is a precious engine for law firm growth.  It can also serve the lawyer and the lawyer’s family and community well.

Lawyers, though, face a couple of unique challenges in moving from firm to firm that most other workers do not face.  When a lawyer moves, the lawyer often hopes and expects to take the lawyer’s established clientele with the lawyer to the new firm.  Yet conduct rules make that move the client’s decision, not the lawyer’s decision.  And the lawyer’s former firm has its own strong interest in retaining the departing lawyer’s clientele.  Thus the lawyer and former firm both have strong incentives to negotiate carefully the timing and content of the communications that they will each make to the lawyer’s clients.

Another unusual challenge that lawyers face in moving from firm to firm are the conflicts of interest that can arise.  A lawyer does little good moving to a competitor firm the clients of which are adversaries of the lawyer’s own clients.  Conduct rules impute a lawyer’s conflicts to other lawyers in the firm.  A lawyer who moves into an enemy camp must generally leave the friendly clients behind.  The firm may in the unusual case value the lawyer’s expertise over the lawyer bringing clients, but even then the lawyer must not work on the other side of a matter related to one that the lawyer had already handled.

Lateral moves of prominent lawyers can still be very good for the new firm, particularly when the new firm is trying to enter a new market, as was the case for the firm featured in the Grand Rapids Business Journal story.  Every new legal market presents its own entry challenges.  Lawyers practice a relationship business as much or more than a transaction business.  While to some clients, lawyers may seem fungible, many clients recognize intrinsic value to the longstanding lawyer-client relationship.  Lawyers quickly become trusted advisors, peculiarly knowledgeable about their client’s matters.  When a law firm enters a new market, the lateral move to the firm of a prominent local lawyer seeds those established client relationships.

Yet to make the story even more interesting, these moves don’t merely involve the interests of the prominent lawyer and the old and new firms.  Subordinate lawyers who worked for the prominent lawyer at the old firm may join the move, particularly when the prominent lawyer values them as a key part of the prominent lawyer’s expert team.  The old firm may also recruit new lateral moves to the firm to replace the departing lawyer.  One move begets other moves in a game of musical chairs.

Those moves can all be good for everyone involved as long as the parties play by the conduct rules.  Greasing the sticky wheel of lawyer employment can be a good thing when it increases opportunity for everyone.  An improved economy can improve the fortunes of both experienced and new lawyers, indeed also the fortunes of their law firms and clients.  Whether a lawyer plants in one field or another, the planting still produces a harvest.

nelson millerBlog author Nelson Miller is the Associate Dean and Professor at WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus. He practiced civil litigation for 16 years before joining the WMU-Cooley faculty. He has argued cases before the Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan Court of Appeals, and United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and filed amicus and party briefs in the United States Supreme Court. He has has many published books, casebooks, book chapters, book reviews, and articles on legal education, law practice, torts, civil procedure, professional responsibility, damages, international law, constitutional law, university law, bioethics, and law history and philosophy. He also teaches law classes on the Kalamazoo, Michigan campus of Western Michigan University.

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Sometimes Football and Law School Row Together #RTB

In 2013, the WMU football program had a record of 1-11. One win, and 11 losses. This year, the team has gone undefeated with a record of 13-0. Fire up the bandwagon, and jump on! The Broncos are rowing to the 2017 Cotton Bowl Classic at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on January 2! You may be wondering, “What does the football record have to do with the law school?” The similarities may surprise you, but I will use some Bronconese to explain it to you.

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Bronconese is the language created by head football coach, PJ Fleck, to articulate life lessons to his players and to create a culture of success. While there are over 200 words and phrases in Bronconese, I’m going to use just a few to illustrate how the attitude of success on the football field mirrors the attitude of success in law school.

“Row The Boat.”  If you’ve heard anything about WMU football, you’ve likely heard the team’s mantra—“Row The Boat.” It is everywhere here in Michigan, but not many people understand its true meaning. According to Coach Fleck, “Row The Boat” has to do with the amount of effort you put into your task, the constant drive toward your goals, and the teamwork necessary for a team, a community, or a cause to succeed. It also refers to the idea that everyone has a choice to make every day—you can give up and pull your oar out of the water, or you can keep your oar in the water and persist toward your goal.

Here at WMU-Cooley, we expect our students to never give up—keep their oars in the water. We expect them to keep driving toward their goal of succeeding in law school and passing the bar exam. While law school appears to be a solo effort, there are multiple people helping, encouraging, and driving students toward success. We – faculty, staff, and alumni – all have an oar in the water for every one of our students.

“Change your best.”  This phrase is just what it sounds like – you can always do better. If you are simply doing your best, you are staying the same and not growing. In law school, your best isn’t limited to grades. As an attorney, you will need to constantly gROW and change in order to keep up with changes in the law, growth in your practice, and personal growth as a dedicated member of your community. We encourage our students to always strive for better: better grades, better careers, and better, more fulfilling personal lives.  Your best can always be better, and we’ll help you continually find a new “best.”

“F.F.F.”  Fuel. Fierce. Finish. Fuel comes from within. Each student at WMU-Cooley has a reason for being here. They have a goal, maybe even a dream, and it is that goal, that dream that fuels them every day. Fierce refers to the attitude of a champion. Without a fierce determination, law school can be overwhelming. We encourage our students to be fierce in their pursuit of their dream. Finishing is the hardest part. Finishing only happens by grit. Finishing is the drive to push through setbacks when fuel is low and success seems unattainable. We know that one of the greatest indicators of success in law school is a person’s grit and determination, and we challenge our students to finish every day.

“Heartwork.” Hard work with pride and passion. The pursuit of a law degree and the practice of law are as much about taking pride in your work and having a passion for what you do as they are about simply working hard. Everyone has the ability to work hard, but those that have a passion for what they do and the pride to do it well are what set WMU-Cooley students apart. Our students pursue their goals with purpose and a work ethic that leads to success both in the classroom and in life.

So while you may not think the intellectual pursuits of law school have much to do with football, the WMU football team and the law school share many of the same core values. We both seek excellence, self-determination, and we’re willing to sacrifice to achieve our goals. We put our oars in the water everyday so that we may live the life of champions.
Go Broncos! Good luck in the Cotton Bowl, and always ROW THE BOAT!


Blog author Professor Emily Horvath currently serves as the Director of Academic Services where she works with students and faculty to develop programming to improve student success.

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