Category Archives: Skills

Preparation. Preparation. Preparation: An interview with Hon. Christopher C. Sabella

The first thing 13th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Christopher C. Sabella tells law students on the first day of class is that he wants them to be “as comfortable in the courtroom as they are in their own living room.” Now that doesn’t sound very easy, but he goes on to say that one of the best ways to become comfortable in the courtroom is by preparing. In fact, the three top things you need to remember in the courtroom are, “Preparation. Preparation. Preparation!”

Below are questions we asked Judge Sabella during our interview, along with his answers and his advice.

Tell us a little about your career before becoming a circuit judge with the 13th judicial circuit court? 

Before my career as a judge with the 13th judicial circuit I had two of the greatest jobs that you can imagine. I served as the legal adviser for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office for a total of 12 years where I represented the sheriff, the agency and individual deputies in lawsuits that were filed against those different entities. I left the sheriff’s office and went to the U.S. attorney’s office and I served as an assistant U.S. attorney for a short period of time where I prosecuted federal cases in United States court. And one of the greatest feelings was to walk into court and to say I represent the United States of America. I’ll never forget that, that was a highlight of my career. Eventually I did return to the sheriff’s office as the deputy chief legal adviser where I supervised other attorneys and ultimately represented the agency, mainly in federal court in use of deadly force cases, until I was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to be a circuit court judge here in the 13th judicial circuit.

So what in your legal career has guided you the most in your life? 

I think the one most important thing that has guided me the most in my legal career, and particularly my time on the bench, is that I’ve learned how to treat people. The thing that I have learned over the years being a judge is, that people treat you the way that you treat them, and I treat everybody with the greatest amount of respect.

I’ve had individuals, even young men, who I’ve sentenced to prison for long periods of time – even one that I remember that I sentenced to life in prison – but the way that I had treated him throughout the course of the proceedings, and the way that I treated him at the time that I sentenced him, he left the courtroom thanking me even though he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison.  It just shocked me that he was able to treat me with such respect. I think that he was able to do that – and actually did that – because I had treated him with respect. I feel that that’s very important, and not just in the practice of law, not just in the courtroom, but in everyday life. You interact with people. Treat everybody with respect and they’ll return that respect.

In July 2010 you were recognized by Tampa Bay Magazine as Tampa Bay’s top lawyer in law enforcement. Was law enforcement an area of law you always had an interest or was it something you developed a passion for?

The time that I spent representing the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the time that I spent with law enforcement was something that I developed a passion for. In fact when I graduated from law school I had no idea that law enforcement agencies even had in-house counsel. It was a time when I was looking for a job and my cousin who was a judge here locally, a county judge, knew the chief legal adviser at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. He knew that I was looking for a job, so he called him and he agreed to meet me and gave me an interview, then hired me as a law clerk while I was waiting for my bar results. During that time, I guess I must have impressed them because when I got my bar results back they hired me as a legal adviser. I then spent the next six years there representing them as a legal adviser. During that time I developed an incredible passion for law enforcement. I ultimately was recognized by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as an expert in use of deadly force. I was on a committee picked by the governor to investigate officer-involved shootings, and ultimately developed a curriculum for FDLE for the investigation of officer-involved shootings.  I represented many officers in court for use of deadly force and developed an incredible passion for law enforcement.

You have been teaching trial skills at WMU-Cooley since 2014. What inspired you to go into teaching?

The thing that inspired me the most to go into teaching law students is my experience with young lawyers in my profession and my time as a judge. I always take the opportunity to spend time with young lawyers because I believe that they are the future of our career. Coming here and teaching law students is an opportunity to address them at an early point in their career and to assist them in becoming not only good lawyers – but great lawyers.

Tell me about your style of teaching. What do you find your students appreciate about it?

Students have told me often that they appreciate my teaching style. So it’s caused me to wonder what it is I’m doing right in the classroom. I think that, first of all, teaching a trial skills class is different than teaching any other class, because this is a class where the students have the opportunity to come down and to participate and to have hands-on learning experiences where they actually do each and every one of the parts of a trial. So we are having fun in class and that makes them enjoy class but most importantly I think why the students enjoy the class is that I am trying to make them comfortable in a courtroom. I tell them in the very beginning, the first day of class, that in order to be a great trial lawyer you’ve got to be comfortable in the courtroom. So I tell them everything we’re going to do throughout this class is going to be geared toward making you as comfortable in the courtroom as you are in your own living room. The second part of being a great trial attorney in addition to feeling comfortable in the courtroom is being prepared. So my students often hear me tell them preparation, preparation, preparation. And when you put those two things together, preparation and comfort in the courtroom, they’re going to be great trial attorneys.

What is it about WMU-Cooley students that standout to you?

There are several things that stand out to me about Cooley students, but overall I find that they’re just absolutely incredible. The diversity of the students is just amazing to me. I have had students that are executives in large corporations. I have had students that are ex-teachers, ex-law enforcement officers. I even had one student who was only 18 years old. She had been home-schooled through high school and college and here she was in her third year of law school and she was only 18 years old. She was an incredible student.

But the diversity is amazing, and that’s one of the things that keeps me coming back to the classroom here at Cooley, as well as so many other things, because everything else about this school is so amazing – the other faculty members, the administration, this facility that we teach in. Cooley Law School is just incredible to me, and it starts with the students and it ends with the faculty and the administration. I just can’t imagine not being a part of this great school.

What advice would you like to give to law students?

The best advice that I can give to a law student is that I truly believe that you can accomplish anything that you set your mind to. It starts with setting goals, then working hard to achieve those goals, staying focused throughout the process, and then always being prepared. Like I always say preparation, preparation, preparation makes great lawyers.

What have you learned from your law students?

As much as I’ve heard students tell me that they’ve learned from and they enjoy my class, I recognize that it’s not just a one-way street. I have incredible students and I’ve learned a lot from them. They continue to amaze me how focused they are and how committed they are. They work hard; they come to class prepared – and it really helps me stay focused in seeing them and how hard they work. It makes me a better judge.

As a judge in Hillsborough County, you have seen the good and the bad times. What are the challenges to being a judge in this community?

I have found that there are many challenges to being a judge, but one of the most challenging things is being able to, what we call “stay within our lane.” We are sworn to interpret the law, not to change the law. Too many judges try to change the law if they don’t like it. I recognize that I have to follow the law whether I like it or not, whatever the result may be. If I want to change the law then I should have been a legislator, and at some point in my career maybe I’ll do that; where I can make the law. But while I’m a judge, I have to interpret the law and follow it wherever it takes me.

Do you have any interesting memories from your time as a judge?

In my time in the courtroom as a judge, two of the most interesting memories that I have is when I was a young judge. The first one was when I was a young judge in family law. I had two individuals who were in their 70s, had been married over 50 years and were getting a divorce. The only thing that they couldn’t settle between the two of them was the wife’s family spaghetti recipe. They were fighting over the recipe. The husband wanted a copy of the recipe, and that was the only thing that was standing in between them and their divorce. I can’t help but think that it must have been really good spaghetti for 50 years!

The other most interesting thing that happened was my time in juvenile where I had a non-jury trial and the defendant was accused of breaking into a home and stealing several items. The state attorney was doing a direct examination of the victim and she was going into a very specific description of a set of shoes that had been stolen from her house. I was wondering why they were going into such detail over these shoes – it was absolutely not necessary, until the attorney asked ‘have you seen those shoes since the day that they were stolen,’ and the victim, who was on the witness stand, pointed to the shoes that the defendant was wearing and said, ‘yes, he’s wearing them today.’ Needless to say, I found him guilty of the charges!

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Everyone needs estate planning, no matter the age: Five Topics to Discuss with an Elder Law Attorney

Sixty Plus students and faculty spend hours talking to citizens who are over the age of 60. One thing is certain. By the time you reach the age of 60, you are usually comfortable discussing end-of-life planning. The fact is, everyone needs estate planning, no matter the age. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, how many people are in your family, what you did in your career, or your level of education. People of even modest means should sit down with an attorney who has expertise in estate planning. – WMU-Cooley professor and elder law expert Kimberly O’Leary
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Even if you are not over the age of 60, you probably know of people who could benefit by having this conversation. Here’s why. Don’t wait for the crisis. End-of-life issues affect everyone. If you wait until it’s too late, your options may be limited or decisions will need to be made by someone other than yourself.

Those conversations can include:

  1.  Independence planning:  If you become ill or disabled at some point in the future in any way that makes it difficult for you to take care of your personal business or your life, you can appoint a trusted friend or family member to assist you.  Such illness or disability might be temporary or might be permanent, and in either event, you can plan for help.  You do not have to be old or ill to need this kind of help, although statistically you are more likely to need help the older you are.  If you do NOT have anyone you trust to help you, this type of conversation can be even more important.  Planning these kinds of arrangements long in advance of when you may need them gives you a greater say in how your life will unfold in the event you become ill or infirm.
  2.  Medical decisions: You may have a time in your life when you are unable to make your own medical decisions.  If you were diagnosed with a terminal illness, and unable to make end-of-life decisions, who would make them for you?  You can plan that in advance.  A good elder law attorney can sit down and discuss all of the factors you will want to consider.  You can write this in any way that makes sense to you.
  3.  Wills, trusts, transfer on death deeds and bank accounts:  Everyone should plan how to leave their assets after they  pass away.  There are pros and cons to different approaches and not every approach is right for every person.  If you draft these documents yourself, you may unintentionally trigger a bad consequence you had not considered.  Sometimes people who own property of small value monetarily have items of great personal value to their family and friends.  You can decide how you want those items divided.
  4. Long-term care financial planning:  If you might need to enter a nursing home, or receive long-term care at home, in the future, how will you pay for that?  A good elder law attorney can help you understand Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance, long-term care insurance and how all of these program interact.
  5.  Other miscellaneous issues:  If you are 60 years of age or older, seeing an elder law attorney rather than a general practitioner is a good idea, even for legal work unrelated to “typical” elder law topics.  This is because an elder law attorney will be looking for things a GP will not necessarily see: how a divorce settlement interacts with Medicare is one example.  Are there signs of financial exploitation or elder abuse?  Are there hints someone might file for a guardianship?  These are the types of issues an elder law attorney can help.

If you or someone you know needs assistance in elder law, and you live in the Ingham, Eaton, and Clinton, Michigan counties, please contact Sixty Plus, Inc., Elderlaw Clinic to assist  you with your needs at 517-372-3484.

Professor Kimberly O'Leary

WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Kimberly O’Leary supervises and teaches third-year law students in its Sixty Plus, Inc. Elderlaw Clinic. The clinic works to help older adults by drafting documents to help them plan for the future, allowing them to maintain independence for as long as possible. Professor O’Leary has written extensively in the field of attorney-client counseling, housing law, diversity training, the relationship between social justice goals and clinical law offices and clinical teaching.  Other blog articles by Professor O’Leary: Aging parents should plan ahead to avoid being another exploitation or scam statistic and Sixty Plus, Inc. Elderlaw Clinic recognized for decades of service to older adults.

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WMU-Cooley Graduate Andrew Hudson: Path from Teacher to Lawyer Inspired Choice

It made sense for Andrew Hudson, now an assistant attorney general for the Michigan Attorney General’s Office, to go into education for his first career. “My grandfather was a teacher and I had a couple of aunts who were also teachers,” remembered Andrew Hudson about his decision to go into education as an undergrad at Western Michigan University. “I was always good in school and I was someone who tutored classmates. I was in the National Honor Society and I made the logical assumption that because I was good in school, I would be good in teaching or education. And I liked it. I like the process of learning, and I liked school, so I wanted to make a career out of it.”

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ATTENDING WMU A LOGICAL DECISION

It was also a logical decision for Andrew to attend Western. Not only was WMU known for having a great education department, it also happened to be located in his hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan. “I wanted to be near home. I had grandparents that were elderly and I was helping take care of them. I also wanted an opportunity to work in the local schools where I grew up and went to school, and return for my teaching career.”

“While I was at Western, I actually worked at a local agency with emotionally impaired children and that experience was the real springboard into teaching,” recalled Andrew with a smile. “Working with emotionally impaired kids really helped kick the shyness right out of me! I interned in Kalamazoo Public Schools for a term, then worked for two years in elementary schools, a Catholic school, then a charter school. At the end of my three years, I decided that I needed to reassess teaching as a long-term career, for a variety of reasons. I knew that I was really skilled at the academics, the presentation of the lesson, and the assessment of the children. I was also very good at organizing and delivering the material in the most effective way, but I never found my groove connecting with the kids or the parents. One thing I knew for certain though was that my educational skills and experience would apply to a lot of different jobs that could be a better fit for me.”

DECISION TO ATTEND LAW SCHOOL INSPIRED REASONING

“Looking back, it was strange, I never saw myself as being the lawyer type,” recalled Andrew, “but in my summer breaks, the thing that I loved doing the most was watching court TV. I loved watching trials and watching the lawyers make their arguments and question the witnesses. I liked the structure of it. It was similar to a classroom, in the sense that you had a jury that you were trying to teach the case to. And I thought that was really fascinating. It became clear that my personal evolution and career goals had changed. I felt that being an attorney now was a great fit for me.  I never thought growing up that I would be able to be a lawyer, then suddenly I turned around and now I’m thinking ‘yeah, I can do that.'”

SUCCESS IN LAW SCHOOL ACHIEVED

Not only could he do it, he did it very well.  Andrew graduated second out of 351 students at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School and found he had a real knack for winning Mock Trial competitions. “I was in Mock Trial, which was my main extracurricular activity,” said Andrew. “I was in the first-year Mock Trial competition, and I won. My partner and I won. And I discovered I had a talent for it. I signed up the very next semester for the evidence competition, and won that. Then the following semester I went on to the national team for Mock Trial. I enjoyed it. It was fun. I got to use my teaching skills, in a way, to organize and plan things out, then speak in front of people. It seemed like a natural transition for what I used to do, even though I didn’t realize it at the time.”

PATH FROM LAW SCHOOL TO THE AG’S OFFICE

“During law school, I got an internship at the county prosecutor’s office in the economic crime unit,” said Andrew. “I worked there for about two years while I went to law school. My work with that office allowed me to set up diversion payment programs for misdemeanor fraud defendants. I was also responsible for educating and assisting defendants. I was able to transition from there into more court work. I was doing pre-trial meetings with unrepresented defendants on other cases and actually doing jury trials and bench trials by myself.”

Andrew’s initiative and work ethic didn’t go unnoticed. When he was sworn in to Eaton County court, the judge that swore him in, Judge Calvin Osterhaven,  was so impressed with his résumé that he called him a month later and hired him.  “I enjoyed working for Judge O. for six months knowing that he was looking into retirement. Being a law clerk was definitely a great experience and it was something I was very glad I did, but I knew that I needed to look for other work. I had applied for a job at the AG’s office and they ended up calling me about a month after I got the job as the law clerk. After a couple rounds of interviews,  the AG’s Office called me back for a third interview. They brought me up to the 7th floor and walked me into Bill Schuette’s office. That was my final interview. I was hired.”

WMU-COOLEY STILL IMPRESSES

“The best decision I ever made was to go to law school,” stated Andrew. “I grew up in law school. I didn’t realize how, until I looked back on everything. I had matured a lot during that time and I think a lot of it had to do with the fact that in law school you are kind of on your own to figure out what is best for you, how to study and prepare, and to figure out what extracurricular activities you want to engage in. But at the same time Cooley has got plenty of help for people who need it. And you can take advantage of it to whatever extent you want to. And so that really helped me mature and grow up as a professional. I really did find the perfect job for me after law school. Cooley really had a lot to do with it. I was not your traditional law school student in the sense that I was a little bit older, I had been in one career already, I wasn’t going from undergraduate to law school, and Cooley kind of catered to that sort of thing, the non-traditional pathway. The scholarship offer was, of course, enticing. It was local, but it was also bigger. Cooley, just because of its size, just had more opportunities. I came here on a tour and the facilities were impressive. It was good to see that there were a lot of mechanisms to help you get through law school. They really did want you to succeed. And if you didn’t, it was probably because you didn’t take advantage of all the avenues of help that were out there.”

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Labor Day Reminder of the Absolute Equality of Rights Between Employer and Laborer

As we approach the unofficial end of summer with the Labor Day holiday weekend, it’s good to take time and look back at a significant and growing holiday that occurred earlier this season — Juneteenth, which celebrates the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation. Although the primary focus of the proclamation was, of course, to end slavery, when Gen. Gordon Granger presented the proclamation to the citizens of Texas, the rights of laborers were expanded to all workers. “This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

juneteenth day background

This summer, WMU-Cooley students involved in the law school’s Sixty Plus, Inc., Elderlaw Clinic hosted their own Juneteenth Celebration with a day to honor our elderly and their contribution to labor and society.

Luis Vasquez, a third-year law student who was born in Guatemala and raised in Texas, said, “I found this event very interesting. Not only did I learn about some of the history surrounding Juneteenth, but I got to be a part of the festivities. It was my first time attending a Juneteenth celebration. The people, food, and atmosphere made the event meaningful and fun.”

Sixty Plus ambassadors worked with Professor Emerita L. Patricia Mock and the Stone Community Outreach project to provide free legal information to local elderly residents.

“The Juneteenth Celebration was definitely a cultural experience. It was packed with art, music, entertainment and amazing food. I enjoyed talking with individuals of all ages and of diverse walks of life. I was able to share one of my many passions – educating people about what we do at the Sixty Plus Clinic. The Juneteenth Celebration was a wonderful experience and I am happy that I was able to participate this year,” shared WMU-Cooley law student Khadija Swims.

“It was a mighty privilege to participate in the Juneteenth celebration. Being a Texan transplant from Alabama, and having only experienced the Texas-styled Juneteenth, the Lansing shindig was fun,” exclaimed weekend WMU-Cooley law student Stephanie Samuels. “I especially enjoyed the music, and it was a pleasure to work the booth with fellow students and Professor Mock, and to meet and share fellowship with the Lansing celebrants this year. I’m sort of a history geek and loved to share with anyone who would listen, the interesting, “did-you-know” and “better-late-than-never” stories about how Juneteenth celebrates the end of slavery in the United States. I usually got a “I didn’t know that” reaction to my explanation,” stated Samuels.

“Juneteenth is a celebration of a turning point in liberation where freedom begins to have more meaning and gives us a deep appreciation for those who have struggled in the past to bring us out of bondage,” said Rev. Dr. Melvin T. Jones, pastor of the Union Missionary Baptist Church in Lansing. “It’s really a celebration of life, especially African American life in this country.” Dr. Jones added that for children, “Juneteenth is an opportunity to peel back to the days before Martin Luther King, Jr. and look at those people from history whose shoulders we stood on, and on whose shoulders we stand, as it relates to what our freedom is all about,” he added.

It is fitting that, as we honor all workers with Labor Day, that we also honor the landmark events in history that make this possible for everyone. As Juneteenth attendee Jean Davis stated, “we need to remember the struggles our forefathers went through so we could have the privileges we have today.”

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Two best ways to increase your employment odds

With some organizations (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) predicting a rosier outlook for law school graduates in 2016, and others asserting the market will continue to be competitive, it’s in the best interests of every law school student and graduate to make a highly positive impression from their very first contact with a potential employer.

So, what can you do to increase your odds of a good outcome?

Experts emphasize two things: 1) Pre-interview Research and 2) Interview Practice

PRE-INTERVIEW RESEARCH

It’s critically important to take some time to research and absorb everything you possibly can on your potential new company. Just like you never ask a witness in court a question you don’t already know the answer to, never ask questions in a job interview that you could have already researched.

According to the Career and Professional Development (CPD) office at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, “The bottom line is employers want to see that you know who they are AND you know what they do. It is important to know the organization’s mission, business profile, practice areas, and recent news. Be sure to review the organization’s website and conduct a Lexis Nexis and Westlaw search. Also, before your interview ask for the names of the individuals who will be interviewing you. Go the extra mile to research the interviewer’s professional background.”

In addition, counsels WMU-Cooley Professor Karen Fultz, “research the background of the CEO and the head of the department in which you plan to work, and try to find any articles about the company or persons that will help you connect with them. If you receive the call for the interview, the interview is set up to learn more about you personally and how you will fit in as a team member. Capitalize on that fact and shine!”

“Interweaving appropriate facts about the company into a response, explanation, or question distinguishes you and makes you memorable,” adds CPD Associate Dean Charles Toy.


INTERVIEW PRACTICE

Mock interviews will expose you to different interview styles: behavioral, situational, case, presentation, panel, selection, work sample, stress, screening, peer group, and video.

Some of those questions include the frequently encountered “greatest strength,” “greatest weakness” standards, as well as inquiries about GPA, and work experience. Obviously, if your GPA is underwhelming, you will emphasize your work experience in your resume, cover letter and interview responses. Employers today are looking for individuals who can work creatively and collaboratively and you need to develop your personal pitch in a way that is responsive to these attributes.

WMU-Cooley graduate Natayai Scott’s interview experiences revealed some notable consistencies among potential employers. “The question most asked is two-fold: 1) what do you know about the position, and 2) how does your skill set fit the position. Going into this last interview, I asked myself these questions and framed the answer the night before. Giving a well-articulated answer is what got me the job offer.”

“Not all questions are straight-forward,” states Lisa Fadler, WMU-Cooley CPD assistant dean. She can conceive of an employer asking interviewees questions like, “What bumper sticker would you want on your car and why?” or “What super power would you want and why?” or “If I gave you $50,000 to start a business, what would it be?” Dean Fadler recommends answering such questions in a way that relates it to and brings value to the position the interviewee is seeking.

The Career Services Office notes that it is important to review and know yourself and your résumé. The order of information presented on your resume is essential to landing an interview. Every resume and cover letter must be tailored to the position for which you are applying. Each submission will be crafted to emphasize the particular needs of the prospective employer and your qualifications for that position. “It is important for you to be comfortable discussing everything on your résumé. It is all fair game. Be able to discuss why you did something and what you obtained from the experience. If you cannot answer questions about yourself, it is telling. More importantly, develop themes and anecdotes to illustrate traits you want to express to the interviewers. For example, instead of telling an employer that you are a hard worker, think about a time when you worked hard to make something happen.”

It’s important to present a professional image. Remember that you are interviewing to be a representative of the employer. The interviewer is looking at your dress presentation and how you put yourself together. Your outward appearance speaks to your judgment and understanding of your role within the workplace. Also, your professional presence includes your speech patterns. The way that you talk with peers is different than the way you will talk to the employer. Lastly, treat everyone that you encounter with respect and turn off your electronics.

Interview Day

  1. Arrive early, but not too early – Everyone knows that being late is bad, but so is arriving too early. Waiting too long for an interview can be awkward or create an imposition for the interviewer. Wait in your car until 10 minutes before the interview.
  2. Stay calm and breathe – Staying calm before and during an interview allows you to actively listen and better respond to questions. Focusing on your breathing during the time before the interview will help you calm your nerves.
  3. Key in on one or two things you want them to remember about you – Briefly recall in your mind a few of your skills or accomplishments that are important to the job. Focusing in on just the most important items will help make you memorable during the interview.
  4. Put away your phone – Don’t fall into the trap of checking your voicemail, Facebook, or email before the interview. Something you read in your newsfeed or inbox or listen to could distract you from the task at hand.
  5. Stay positive – It seems simple, but thinking happy thoughts can put a smile on your face and put you in the right state of mind before the interview.

Pitfalls to avoid

  1. Do not make negative comments about others including previous employers, law school professors/administration, and peers. Instead, focus on the positive. This is especially important if you have identified a problem or issue that you feel particularly qualified to address as a future employee. You want to be perceived as the solution to their problems, not a critic of past failures.
  2. Do not get too comfortable. While it is obviously a good practice to be cordial to a future employer (and all the staff you encounter at the firm from the very moment you arrive) it is vitally important to remember that the interviewer is not your friend. Never let your guard down and do not talk to the interviewer like a peer. Instead, show that you understand and respect business culture. You are a professional now, so you should remember to always act like one.
  3. And, of course, do not lie. As a member of the legal profession, you are expected to maintain high integrity. This professional standard also translates into the interview setting. Employers are sensitive to anything they will interpret as a lie. Inaccuracies or errors on your résumé, denying or exaggerating the truth, and misleading statements are considered lies. Even if these acts are unintentional. Instead, put a positive spin on the truth. You are not expected to air dirty laundry or give long, detailed explanations, but everything must be true and pass a background check.

From summer jobs, to internships, to post-graduation employment, what interview preparation techniques work for you?

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Incubators are for chickens, aren’t they?

It has become very popular for law schools to establish “incubators” or “accelerators” for their grads. Accelerators tend to be less resource intensive with external support services. Incubators tend to offer greater on-site physical and logistical support. They tend to be more resource intensive for the providers. Their goals are admirable but, in my opinion, misdirected.

Incubators are for chickens, aren’t they?

Incubators are for chickens, aren’t they?

Benefits of Many Incubators

  • They often provide low cost or no cost services to the community
  • They help grads become familiar with systems approach to practice management
  • They delay entry into practice for those who are not equipped to succeed until they are better prepared
  • They foster good public relations for the institution

Problems of Many Incubators

  • They delay the graduates entry into independent business practice models
  • Incubators are limited in the number of students that they can support
  • Participants often obtain reduced compensation for their legal services
  • Most incubators control where those graduates practice initially
  • Many confine graduate’s subject matter practice options
  • They encourage continued dependency on the law school when the business environment requires independent judgment and ability to assume risk

Those lists are not exhaustive and, of necessity, they are generalizations. Incubators take many forms and are numerous and very diverse. But a common thread is the attempt to help their participants get a better sense of how to implement the doctrinal component of their legal studies in a practical and business oriented office setting with many support services and a safety net.

They are offered to foster greater success for those who wish to go solo who may not have secured employment as yet. Some provide ancillary support, while others have full-blown office environments where those graduates may practice law until they are ready to go it “alone.” Very often, they are promoted as serving the community, since many of them offer “pro bono” or “low bono” services to members of the community where these exist. Many have terms of service from 6 to 18 months.

There is a better way, in my opinion, which has greater utility for a greater number of graduates. It allows them to hit the ground running without delay even before they pass the bar. It is just one component of a complete strategy designed to better prepare students for the realities of practice upon graduation. What follows is just one component of a series of techniques that I have used for a number of years. I call this program “Solo By Design™.” But, there are other support services which I have used to help students in law school, and after law school, to succeed on their own. Graduates establish themselves with realistic and achievable goals in the community, where they intend to establish themselves upon graduation.

The Foundational Elements of the Program “Solo By Design ™” follow:

While in law school, I send them into the field – at a minimum, they must;

  • Identify the geographic location where they intend to practice and there,
  • If possible, interview solos who are of the same ethnic background and gender,
  • Interview some attorneys who are solos with greater than 10 years in practice,
  • Interview some attorneys who are solos with less than 3 years in practice, and
  • Interview local judges and court clerks.
  • They are armed with reference materials for background about the latest technology and practice management techniques.
  • They are provided a list of questions for them to use in those interviews.
  • They meet with other enrolled students in groups to share what they found as each one develops their own unique business plan, given the information gained through those interviews.
  • Finally, they prepare a business plan, based upon the recommendations of those they interviewed.

This is just one component of a complete system that I have not explored entirely in this post . . . there is much more to it. But this is one essential component to success for graduates after graduation.

I believe that the best way to prepare law students for the preparation of practice after graduation should occur while those students are still in law school through in-house, live-client clinics paired with external placements in externships where they plan to establish their practice. They also need classes to train them in accounting for lawyers, entrepreneurship and thorough and independent research in their own business start-up as identified above through “Solo By Design™.”

That way they can learn the practice principles that help them learn to collaborate and gain the confidence necessary to practice law immediately upon graduation. They have a business plan that they can employ taking advantage of the local relationships that they have already developed while still in law school with earnings that help them pay off their student loans. Their greatest fear of going into business for themselves will not be realized with the “training wheels” of incubators.

Since 1999 we have worked diligently to support students who wish to go solo or into small firm environments. This has been a work-in-progress. We have taken steps to help our graduates establish themselves in the business of law long before the idea of “incubators” became popular. Solo By Design™ has evolved to adapt to the many changes that have occured in the practice of law since our focus began 17 years ago. It has evolved to address the tremendous changes in technology and the economic downturn which has affected many graduates in their attempt to find employment

This is just part of what I do to help them help themselves and have a support system while in law school which continues after they graduate. It helps them develop realistic strategies for success in practice in the geographic area where they intend to practice. They also identify areas of practice which have potential as profit centers in their community with good earning potential. They also establish “relationships” (code for mentors) in the community where they intend to practice. Those are the true sources of information and support who will be valuable resources providing the type of support to help them succeed without delay upon passing the bar.

WMU-Cooley Professor Gary Bauer

WMU-Cooley Professor Gary Bauer

The author, Professor Gary Bauer has been a member of the full-time faculty at WMU-Cooley Law School since 1998. He now teaches Estate Planning to third-year law students and a directed study class he created called Solo By Design. His blog,sololawyerbydesign.com, provides law students, recent solo practioners, and seasoned professionals who wish to go solo, with information and resources to be successful in the legal business. This blog post was first published on October 21, 2015.

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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

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