Category Archives: Student News

Law Students Go One More Step: Teach Access, Not Just How To Fish

nelson millerBlog author Nelson Miller, associate dean and professor at WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus, gives high marks to law students and area entrepreneurs for bringing business and law together during a Poverty Relief/Entrepreneurial Law workshop. Participants and legal experts worked together to generate creative ideas, along with business solutions.

The old saying goes, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” This is true, but lawyers can go one more step by giving the poor the access to the fish market. Poverty remains a real concern in the United States, and a real concern worldwide. Many poverty-relief efforts focus on the importance of charitable giving.

Grand Rapids Organization for Women Executive Director Bonnie Nawara

Grand Rapids Organization for Women Executive Director Bonnie Nawara asks for a show of hands.

Yet the poor need, indeed want more than a handout. While charitable donations provide critical support, many poor may benefit more from the opportunity to provide for themselves, putting to work their own skills. What they really need is access to the markets that produce the goods and services that others so generously offer.

Law can provide access. A legal knowledge ensures that ambitious individuals can put to work their creative energies to not only earn an income but protect their hard-earned capital for themselves and others. Yet, the law can also create obstacles. Sometimes law unduly complicate and obstruct people and their business by stealing and harming capital capacity.

Founder of Painting by Jeff, employing commercial and residential painters, makes concluding remarks.

Founder of Painting by Jeff, employing commercial and residential painters

In an effort to generate solutions, WMU-Cooley law school students are working with community entrepreneurs in several workshops. The Poverty Relief/Entrepreneurial Law workshops were designed to investigate how to help area citizens, especially populations of African American, Hispanic Latino, and women, gain access to market opportunities.

Community leaders and business owners spoke in inspiring testimony to both the opportunities and challenges of capitalizing on one’s own creative energies. The businesses included barbers, painters, designers, inventors, caterers, drivers, therapists, consultants, and professionals. From their testimony, workshop participants listed 20 steps, from entity formation through contract development, property lease or purchase, and first employees, to dispute resolution, mergers and acquisitions, and succession, where lawyers provide critical help to business owners. A team of WMU-Cooley students are working do develop a checklist and educational brochure to help participants along their way.

Inspiring Hispanic-Latino entrepreneurs join Varnum partner Luis Avila.

Inspiring Hispanic-Latino entrepreneurs join Varnum partner Luis Avila.

The workshop also illustrated the great service opportunities for lawyers. Lawyers are makers, creators, and economic drivers. Watching law students and small-business owners working together, and imagining success and opportunity shows the world a new way to attack poverty. Welcome to the fish market!

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Maximizing Career Potential – Job Fair Comes to WMU-Cooley Law School

Remember that old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s WHO you know?” While knowing your subject matter is obviously important — especially in professional disciplines like the law — the “Who” factor of getting to know people in the legal profession is extraordinarily important when it comes to finding or launching a career as an attorney.

WMU-Cooley law students at all levels, along with alumni, have an opportunity to get to know working professionals in the law on Thursday, Feb. 9, when the school hosts its third annual Job and Career Fair from 4-6 p.m. in the lobby of the school’s Lansing campus Cooley Center.

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Karen Poole

Why job AND career fair? Because, explained WMU-Cooley Career and Professional Development Coordinator Karen Poole, employers have a variety of reasons for participating in an employment event. Some are looking to hire entry level attorneys, others are collecting résumés for future jobs, and still others are looking to hire interns, externs, and law clerks.

With that variety of employment options, Poole said there is something for everyone at the event and encouraged students from first-termers to graduating seniors to attend. In addition to the networking possibilities, students gain confidence with helpful real-life interview experience with practicing professionals.

“Planning for your future begins your first term of law school,” Poole noted. “All students should start building their legal résumé right away.”

WMU-Cooley Professor Gary Bauer, who founded Solo By Design, agrees that students benefit from exploring options and creating plans well before they get to their final term. He will be attending to acquaint students with the tools they need before they graduate.

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Gary Bauer

“Solo By Design is a plan of action with coaching that provides tools to help you create an environment which fosters your professional and financial success,” Bauer explained, adding that the tools are useful whether students choose to work for someone else or set up their own practice.

Including Bauer and Solo By Design, the fair will feature 34 employers and organizations, including eight local law firms, two county prosecutors’ offices, five state of Michigan departments, some metro Detroit-area law firms, the FBI, and several non-profit organizations. Employers specifically looking to hire attorneys are Elder Law of Michigan, the FBI, First National Bank of America in East Lansing, Legal Services of South Central Michigan-Lansing, and Shiners and Cooke PC of Saginaw.

Job hunting and networking just doesn’t get any easier than this. Put on your business attire, print 30 copies of your résumé, and show up ready to meet, greet, and listen!

What would YOU like to see in career and job fairs? Let us know!

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New Students Take “Mannequin” Stand During Law School Orientation

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

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

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

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

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

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WMU-Cooley law students inspired at United Nations Indigenous Issues forum

unsymbolWestern Michigan University Cooley Law students Stephanie Samuels and Linda Marion attended the 15th Session of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) at United Nations Headquarters in New York City. The forum topic was Indigenous Rights and Stephanie and Linda were inspired. They share their experience below.     

We both took a course on Indigenous Rights during our participation in WMU-Cooley’s New Zealand foreign study program last winter. This eventually led us from New Zealand to New York to participate in the United Nations forum on the topic this past spring. Valmaine Toki, our law professor at the University of Waikato, encouraged us to attend the meeting. Professor Toki is an internationally respected expert in the field of Indigenous issues and the Vice Chair on the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

Stephanie Samuels (center)

Stephanie Samuels (center)

The theme of the 15th Annual Session of the UNPRII was “Indigenous Peoples: Conflict, Peace, and Resolution.” The topics covered included: autonomous processes and indigenous self-governance; the rights of Indigenous people to their ancestral lands and sustainable development; the effect of climate change, climate projects, and the Paris Agreement; the preservation of indigenous languages and culture; the unique role of indigenous women in addressing indigenous issues and gender equality; the role of nations in helping or hindering progress for indigenous peoples; the disproportionately high rate of suicide among indigenous youth, and many more. A special session was held to allow indigenous youth representatives to speak to the forum; this way, they were allowed to participate in the process and express their concerns directly to this powerful international body.

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As WMU-Cooley Law School representatives at the forum, we acted as academic observers to the presentations made by representatives of Indigenous peoples, nations, and NGOs from all over the world. During special side events, we were able to interact with indigenous representatives as well as international dignitaries and U.S. government officials from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. On one occasion, we met one-on-one with EPA Environmental Justice officials and a law professor heading an NGO on the subject area.

Welcome to the United Nations: Opening of the 15th Session of the UNPFII in the General Assembly Hall.

Welcome to the United Nations: Opening of the 15th Session of the UNPFII in the General Assembly Hall.

Another day, the door was opened to talk with diplomats and Indigenous representatives who assisted in drafting language related to Indigenous peoples for the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change; there were many such occasions. This was a wonderful opportunity for us — particularly since we are both interested in International Law. It allowed us to meet and interact with members of the global community and high ranking government officials. It broadened our understanding and opened doors to prospective national and international opportunities.

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We are thankful to WMU-Cooley and our New Zealand Study Abroad Professor Toki for encouraging us to attend the UNPFII meeting. WMU-Cooley’s Foreign Study Office coordinated and registered us on behalf on the law school, which opened the door for us to attend. We strongly urge other students to seek out similar opportunities as part of their personal and professional development.

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INTERESTING AND POTENTIALLY USEFUL LINKS:

Official summary of the 15th Session of the UNPFII.
Official transcript and a video of the presentation by Statement delivered by National Chief Perry Bellegarde.
More information on the United Nations focus on Indigenous peoples.
The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
More information on Indigenous peoples rights as they relate to intellectual property concerns (Intellectual Property and Genetic Resources, Traditional Knowledge and Folklore)
More on international law and intellectual property.

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Little Girls in Africa Project Inspires Judge and Law Student to Sew Dresses

“We made more than 34,000 dresses in total … our chapter here in Tampa made almost 1,000 … with the help of  people from the community such as Eula Bacon … I do a lot of things here at the court – currently I work with children – but in my life, touching children and families to me has been so important to what I have always worked for. I will probably never meet one of the little girls who will wear one of the dresses, but the ability to touch someone’s life in a meaningful way, to let them know that there are people who care about them and who are invested in their success and interests, is important to me.” – Hon. Barbara Twine-Thomas, 13th Judicial Circuit Judge, Hillsborough County.

Eula T. Bacon is not only a high-energy law student at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, she is also deeply involved in her community and in serving others. One of her many talents is sewing. And as part of the Little Dresses for Africa project, Eula has, to date, created 17 dresses for little girls in Africa, plus has inspired fellow law students, friends and family to help also.

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“All lawyers are required to do pro bono service,” said Eula, “but lawyers do more than just the community workshops or volunteering to help a client who does not have the funds to pay for services. As a law school student, we can’t practice the law, but I always look for opportunities, and the school provides opportunities for us to go out and help in the legal community.”

And that’s how Eula learned about the Little Dresses for Africa project. She was volunteering at the George Edgecomb Bar Association where Judge Twine-Thomas was a featured panel speaker. After the session, Eula was able to talk with Judge Twine-Thomas. She mentioned to Eula that she was going to go home and start sewing dresses for the project. That conversation sparked an excitement for her to get involved.

“I grew up sewing – my mother taught me how to sew – I asked her what the project was about. And when she said – Sewing. Little girls. Africa. – I thought; Wow, this will be a great project. I just became so excited about it. The dresses are going to little girls in Africa, but when you create the dresses (in the sewing circles that Judge Twine-Thomas created), you have a chance to talk to people in the community and they can see legal professionals as more than just the lawyer. They can see them as human beings and that we care about people and we care about service. I love that part of it.”

Judge Twine-Thomas has served others her entire life. It started long before her service in the legal profession over 40 years ago. As a college student, she became very involved in her Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, and through the sorority most recently, the Little Dresses for Africa project. “Service to all mankind” is the motto of the 200,000 member sorority, and her church’s philosophy is “If you want justice, work for peace.” These two things together, she says, define who she is. Judge Twine-Thomas was so moved by the Little Dresses for Africa Project, that she chairs the Tampa chapter in the global initiative.

“For several successive weeks we met weekly and sewed together,” recalled Judge Twine-Thomas about the Little Dress for Africa Project. “And as we sewed, we talked about our lives, our friendships, our relationships, and slowly the enthusiasm about what we were doing – making dresses for little girls on the other side of earth – was so motivating. Eventually it was infectious. Everybody around us, everybody who heard about the project wanted to be a part of it.”

“I’m involved in a lot of women’s organizations and I believe in empowering woman. When you are empowering women, you are empowering humanity.”

Judge Barbara Twine-Thomas demonstrates to WMU-Cooley student Eula T. Bacon how to make Dresses for Africa out of a pillow case.

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Open Forums on Policing Build New Community Relationships and Create Economic Benefits

“We don’t want to do Detroit again when 50 years later the city still hasn’t fully recovered,” stated one participant during one of several open forums on police and community relations held at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s Grand Rapids campus this summer. Participants not only found the forums revealing, they heard things that they hadn’t heard before, from people whom they did not yet know. They also disclosed things that they hadn’t shared in a long time if at all. In doing so, they made significant new relationships while changing old relationships for the better.

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Every forum also asked whether these gatherings, held here and across the nation, make any difference.

Failed police/community relations carry huge social and economic cost. Residents want peace and order without the sense of an oppressive occupying force. Police officers want to return home alive and uninjured, with the respect of those for whose security they risk their lives. Somewhere in that tense mix, communities find themselves torn by deadly police/resident conflict.

Forums recognized that communities tear themselves apart with resident-on-resident violence of domestic, drug-gang, mental-illness, terrorist, and other variety. They also recognized that every occupation, policing or otherwise, has its dangerous kooks and that no solution is likely to eliminate all such horrors. The forums also concluded that police have a higher duty, one that police seem fully ready to accept. One awful incident is too many, especially when the stakes so quickly spread beyond that one precious life to other lives affected by breakdowns in police/community relations.

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Fortunately, law is action logic, not simply group therapy, as helpful as talking can be for relationships, understanding, and even peace of mind. Law wants peace in neighborhoods, real peace of the physical-security kind, but with liberty, not the peace of an occupying force. So what do these forums produce?

First, we recognize new trends and circumstances. Increased access to concealed-weapon permits is one example, as are changes in local and national economies, family structure, and mental-health resources. Law and policing must recognize and respond to those changes, just as they currently are doing. Keep talking about those changes.

Second, we see the influence of new technologies, particularly smartphone video, body cameras, and social media, but also new body armor, tasers, and other disabling and protective devices. With video in particular, we now so rapidly share compelling recordings, often made all the more compelling by the unfortunate fact that they may be critically incomplete. We need to monitor and deploy these new technologies while recognizing their challenges and limitations. Judge surely, but don’t rush to judgment.

Third, we have abundant new data, some of it in those very same recordings and social-media accounts but also in digitalized hospital records of police-injury reports and records maintained and distributed by the police agencies themselves. We also find that the data is critically incomplete. While scholars are hard at work discerning patterns and trends from what data we have, we need more and better data. It’s coming. Encourage it.

Fourth, we find familiar stressors for both community and police alike. Veterans returning from undeclared wars reenter communities and join local police forces, bringing their trauma with them. Neighborhoods produce their own battle-like stresses. Medicine offers new testing and therapies for stress-induced conditions. We need to take greater advantage of those resources.

Fifth, we find opportunities for new policies, protocols, and practices, guiding officer training, rotation, relief, and testing, how to respond to citizens lawfully carrying concealed weapons, and of course when and how to intervene using reasonable and necessary force.

Talk may be cheap, but talk can work, as these themes emerge and actions follow.

I once represented in a civil-rights action a young man whom an officer shot in the back while the young man lay defenseless on the ground with his hands behind his back. I have a low opinion of human nature but high opinion of human capacity. My hope is that in talking, studying, and law reform, young men like that former client of mine will not have been shot. Let’s keep talking using words and forming relationships that promote peace, law, security, liberty, respect, and order, not violence. Let communities then flourish.

miller_nelsonBlog 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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WMU-Cooley Students Witness British History

WMU-Cooley law students are spending part of their summer in Oxford, England. They are participating in a five-week study abroad program housed at Hertford College at the University of Oxford. The students are taking full advantage of this experience and have packed a lot into their days and weekends. They are engaged in stimulating classes taught by world class international law professors and learning about Britain.

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Here are some highlights:

1.  A trip to Middle Temple in London where students dined in the elegant building that has been a home to the British legal profession since the 14th Century.  Five signers of the Declaration of Independence were members.
2.  A trip to Bath to see the spa the Romans built in AD 60.
3.  Concerts at the centuries old Sheldonian Theater, Christ Church Chapel, and Exeter College Chapel, and a visit to the Museum of Natural History.
4.  Touring London on a double decker bus:  Students learned much from the locals as they helped to translate across the cultures.  Did you know adhesive bandages are called “plasters” in England?

5.  And being present for a moment in British history.  The immediate aftermath of Brexit and the election of Britain’s second female prime minister.  A lot has been learned by speaking with British citizens and listening to the BBC coverage.

WMU-Cooley has enjoyed its time in Great Britain and will remember these historic events.

vuletich_victoriaWMU-Cooley Law School Victoria Vuletich is directing the law school’s Study Abroad program in Toronto. She and her students are sharing their experiences throughout the 2016 summer semester.

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