Category Archives: The Value of a Legal Education

Highlights the value and benefits of a legal education at Cooley Law School. Cooley’s rigorous program of legal instruction taught by experienced practitioners equips its students with the knowledge, skills, and ethics needed to practice law competently and effectively.

Devolder Law Firm: New Grads Find Success Right Out of the Gate

Less than six months ago, Bryan and Elizabeth Devolder opened their own business, The Devolder Law Firm, in suburban Tampa. In the words of  Elizabeth Devolder, “We are very pleased. It’s been doing even better than we expected. We just had our third profitable week!” 

The fact that Elizabeth and Bryan Devolder have been able to create a successful law business right out of the gate is of no surprise to anyone else, especially WMU-Cooley’s Tampa Bay campus. devolder-door As students, both Bryan and Elizabeth were committed, exceptional law students. As attorneys, they are equally involved and dedicated to their new venture.

What really makes them successful though is that they are truly exceptional human beings – as a couple – and as individuals.

One only need look at Bryan and Elizabeth’s team national finals win in the American Bar Association (ABA) Law Student Division Client Counseling Competition to see that goals made are goals reached. Even National Jurist Magazine named Elizabeth a law student of the year in 2016. Both Bryan and Elizabeth graduated magna cum laude from law school. And they did it all while balancing work, school, family, and mentoring other law students while students.

Opening their law firm was yet another exercise in balancing what is important to them, including “helping others protect what matters most,” which is their business philosophy and motto.

Their new business has already proven to be, not only profitable, but very interesting and important work.

devolders“This week we had a call from a man and his wife,” shared Elizabeth. “The man had been served papers on the day of our phone call. His ex-wife had filed an ex parte motion, and the judge had already issued an order modifying the divorce judgment, with a hearing set for the next week. We immediately agreed to meet with him that day. When the gentleman arrived for his initial consultation, we were surprised to find out that the papers were from a court were from another state. This was just one of the many complicated pieces of the puzzle for this client.”

They have been able to serve and help many clients since they opened. So many that it looked like they might need to expand.

devolderlaw005_web“We have been so busy in our business that we have already hired another attorney,WMU-Cooley graduate Sarah Harris, to manage the Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning clients who need our help,” shared Bryan. “The business is growing, now with the help of three WMU-Cooley graduates, and we are proud of our alma mater. That’s just another reason why Cooley is an awesome law school choice.”

“One of the great things about Cooley is our nationwide network of graduates, ” added Elizabeth. “I’ve been able to do a simple Google search to find any number of listings that have included our graduates in almost any area of law or legal expertise. Even nice is that the Avvo listing of the graduates I have found have outstanding reviews. The last search I did was a Cooley graduate with an excellent score along with experience commensurate with, or exceeding, the qualifications of opposing counsel. And when I did contact his office, he returned my call in three minutes and let me know he appreciated the call from a fellow graduate. He was a joy to talk to, and very helpful. He even knew the opposing counsel and her work. He immediately understood the client’s situation and got us a letter we could forward to the client within an hour. He called our client back before the end of the day, despite the fact that he had a family obligation that evening!”

Both Bryan and Elizabeth also have benefited from the knowledge shared by other graduates.

“The graduates we have been in contact with have been more than open to discussing strategy with us and going the extra mile,” said Elizabeth. “And we are happy to also share our knowledge about Florida law. We enjoy working with them and they ‘enjoy working with young Cooley grads’ as one fellow grad said to me. Everybody wins!

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WMU-Cooley Graduation Keynote Larry Nolan: The Wonderful Beauty of the Law is Change

The Tampa Bay campus of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School honored 43 graduates during a commencement ceremony held at University of South Florida’s Marshall Center on January 8, 2017.  Students received their diplomas during the ceremony for earning their juris doctor degrees. WMU-Cooley 1976 graduate, Board Chair, and State Bar of Michigan President Lawrence P. Nolan was the keynote speaker. Below is his speech and advice to the newly minted attorneys.

Four months ago, as President Don LeDuc mentioned, I was sworn in by the Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, Justice Robert Young. The Chief Justice prefaced his remarks prior to swearing me in by stating that I would be the last State Bar President that he would be swearing in. He didn’t elaborate.

The official news hasn’t hit the streets yet, but I suspect that you will be reading very shortly that a new justice will be elected as Chief Justice of the Court. It signifies to me that every journey started eventually comes to an end. We are constantly reminded that nothing lasts forever. It seems like my journey as a lawyer is always just a beginning, as an old chapter is laid to rest. I recall sitting where you are sitting here today.

I found the joy in graduating from law school in the first class at Cooley in Lansing, Michigan, back in January of 1976. But the joy was not in just getting law school over with, but rather in reaching my goal to become an attorney. Becoming an attorney was a goal that I had set early in my childhood, maybe not unlike many of you. Congratulations! You have now succeeded in so many ways to reach your goal. You have sacrificed a lot to get here.

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Remember, however, it’s not about just reaching a goal. The journey continues. You will continue to be challenged. The bar examination is next. Winning your first trial may be just around the corner. Writing your first brief, your first appeal, your first complaint, are all first encounters along the journey. The joy of being a lawyer is that the journey really never ends. It just continues to change along the way.

The only one thing constant in being a lawyer I can tell you is change. Adaptability is the key to survival. Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” The wonderful beauty of the law is change. You will always be challenged to think, and to use the foundational building blocks that you leave law school with to be thoroughly analytical.

As you already heard, I was admitted to the first class of Cooley Law School back in January of 1973. It was a night class. Everyone had eight to five jobs during the day. I had the good fortune of getting a job as a law clerk working for the only minority law firm in Lansing. A year or so later, I was able to get a job as a security officer in the Michigan Court of Appeals. I never lost sight of the big prize. I was focused. I was determined and I was happy. I felt like I had never learned so much, especially after my first semester. Then again, after my second semester and then I realized that going to law school and being a lawyer was a continuum of learning. That, my graduates, is the journey.

After graduating in January 1976, I went into practice on my own immediately. Much has changed from that date, now more than 41 years ago. I was appointed to the Thomas M. Cooley Board of Directors in 1984. I have served continuously for the past 33 years. I was elected Vice Chair and then Chair of the Board approximately six years ago. I always considered it a privilege and a gift to serve. I am, and have always been, a big proponent of access to legal education. Cooley’s admission policy allows that mission to exist and be flexible enough to meet the individual student needs.

I got involved in my local Bar Association politics and then eventually in State Bar Association politics. I felt like I had a duty to let people know that Cooley Law School produced lawyers with a legal education second to none. I was on a mission. Nobody was going to talk about Cooley Law School not being as good as the other law schools in the state or the country.

But enough about me. This is not about me. This is not my day. My day in the lights was four months ago. It’s now time for me to carry out the most sacred goals of this great profession at, not only the state, but also at the national stage. Today is your day. No one else’s. Today is special, for you have reached a goal in your journey of becoming a lawyer. In just a few moments you will receive a paper called a degree. President LeDuc and I have signed that piece of paper certifying to the world that you have become an attorney. Enjoy it. Bask in the bright lights. Go out for dinner with family and friends, for tomorrow comes only too quickly.

Tomorrow it is time for you to go to work. It’s time on the continuum of becoming a lawyer to your journey of studying for the Bar exam. You cannot over-study for the Bar. There is no such thing. And you cannot begin to continue this journey too soon. Someone once said “The nicest thing about the future is that it always starts tomorrow.” Your future is tomorrow. You owe it to yourself and everyone, including me, President Don LeDuc, and this distinguished faculty, to pass the Bar exam on your first attempt.

My father was one of 13 children growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in the early 1900s. They had no I-Pads. They had no cell phones, knew nothing about blogging, tweeting, Facebook, YouTube, match.com, or instant messaging. He immigrated to Quebec at 14, then to Montreal, then Windsor, and eventually the United States. Nothing was easy for him or my mom. He was not formally educated with degrees, diplomas, and the like.

He did have, however, several sayings that stuck with me through my life. One of my favorites was “Keep your nose to the grindstone” and “Don’t get mixed up with no rubby dubs!”

For years, my siblings and I debated the true definition of a “rubby dub,” only to ultimately conclude that it meant someone who couldn’t comprehend or appreciate what you were doing. In essence, work hard to attain your goal, and don’t get sidetracked. Another one of my favorite sayings is, when he would tell me that, “When the circus comes to town, don’t let the man with the balloons go by.” Think of that. So when you have struggled and sacrificed, and have reached your goal, take advantage of the preparation and excitement of being at the circus because one the balloon man goes by, the next time that you see him again is when he is all out of balloons. Seize the opportunity. It is here. It is now.

My dad never graduated from high school, but he always was prepared for the time that opportunity presented itself. Nothing, and I mean nothing – not talent, not intelligence, not high LSAT scores or GPA, not money or influence, will ever take a higher place in your life than preparation. Preparation, yes preparation, will allow you to pass the Bar exam. There is no substitute. It will serve you well through life to be better prepared in knowing the facts, in knowing the law, and in knowing and understanding people.

Secondly, “When you get there, remember where you came from.” Third, a Winston Churchill quote that’s one of my favorites, “Never, never, never give up!” Giving up is not an option for you. I said, giving up is not an option for you. You have come too far. You have sacrificed too much. You leave here with a special degree. Make those who supported you all these years proud.

More importantly, make yourself proud of who you are now, what you have become, and know that you are in a special place. Congratulations, and good luck. You are the future of this great profession. I’m very proud of all of you. Good bye. Do good and great things, and accomplishments will be your personal and professional reward.

God speed, and may the words of an old Irish blessing be always with you.

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warmly upon your face.

And the rains fall softly upon your fields,

And until we meeting again,

May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

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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 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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Military Feature Brien Brockway: Military Background Great Training for Law School Success

WMU-Cooley, as a military friendly and designated Yellow Ribbon School, talks to its military students, faculty and graduates about their journey from the military to law school and about their career goals. This December, we feature WMU-Cooley law 1L student Brien Brockway, a U.S. Army Veteran. He was a Fire Team Leader with the infantry in Afghanistan. After careful consideration, he decided to change careers to allow more time with his family. That decision led him to law school at WMU-Cooley.

Military rank and title: U.S. Army Veteran, Fire Team Leader Specialist

Why did you decide to go to law school: I decided to go to law school for several reasons. First, for my personal knowledge. Second, for my family and the future of my children. Third, for those that I will serve in the future. At first, the idea of law seemed like a large and daunting task, but what I found was that my experience in the military, and the lessons I learned, really prepared me for what lay ahead in law school, like handling the stress and the workload. The professors have also been very good about setting students up for success. I am also working closely with the Academic and Career Services to start networking now to figure out my best fit and career path after law school.

Why did WMU-Cooley stand out for you: Although I like working in the military and service, I felt like there was something missing, so I did some research on law schools and WMU-Cooley made a lot of sense. They offered good scholarships and, most importantly, they offered part-time and evening classes, which was key since my wife and I work full-time and we have a family.

Career: My career took multiple turns. I have worked in lead abatement, education, and the military. Then after leaving the military, I pursued a degree in public administration knowing that I still wanted to be involved in some aspect of service. My present job is working with the Kalamazoo County Area Agency on Aging, working for veterans, and with veterans. After law school, my goal is to stay in southwest Michigan and practice business and civil law.

Tell us a little about you: I have lived in southwest Michigan since I was 11 years old. I completed my bachelors in history and theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville. I spent nearly 24 months in the Army National Guard and three years on Active Duty with 2-2 Infantry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. After being discharged, I moved my family back to Kalamazoo, Michigan, then started law school at WMU-Cooley in May 2016.  My wife and I have been married seven years and we have three children.

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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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WMU-Cooley graduate Jon Kohler: Leading Plantation Broker in USA

WMU-Cooley Law School graduate Jon Kohler (Adams Class, 1997), is the founder of Jon Kohler & Associates, the #1 plantation brokerage in the United States. Kohler attributes the work ethic and education he gained at WMU-Cooley Law School with his continued success. Read below Mr. Kohler’s interview with writer Adam York._dsc7439

Q: How did you end up at WMU-Cooley Law School?

A: After undergrad at Florida State University, I interned for Florida senator Sherry Walker in her senate office and law firm. She was the youngest state senator at the time and a neighbor to my ranch today. She went to Cooley, and literally flew up there with me and told me this is where I was going to law school. They still remember her as a student years later because of her country accent.

Q: Tell us a bit about your time at WMU-Cooley.

A: I actually graduated in fewer than three years in 1997. I was president of the Cooley Outdoors Club and met some lifelong friends from this experience.  I sold Barbri Bar Review Courses while at Cooley. One of the funniest memories I have about my time there is that in one class I wrote a business plan on essentially what I am doing now and only got a C! Haha. I bet the professor never thought I would become the top plantation broker in the country. I believed getting paid on a commission basis as a broker rather than hourly as an attorney. It was a no-brainer. The major reason I went to law school was to learn how to broker large tracts of land and be the best broker one could be.

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Cooley was very, very tough. In undergrad, I wasn’t a very focused student. Cooley is what I needed to build my confidence and learn how to be assertive. It was very hard work, and they never took the pressure off, even for seniors. You had to really want it, and badly enough to graduate. I was in the top half of my class, but I didn’t feel special. I received the “Book Award” in Evidence, which is a big deal since you received the best grade in the entire class. I remember watching the OJ Simpson trial a lot during my time at Cooley – maybe I watched too much of the trial on TV while I was going through law school!

Q: What did you do after you graduated from WMU-Cooley?

A: I had no problems whatsoever with the Florida Bar and Montana Bar. The Cooley education was excellent, and I seemed to have quite a knowledge advantage over other recent graduates from other schools. I always felt I had a much better education than any other recent graduate I encountered, and they always seemed very impressed.

Q: Tell us about your business, Jon Kohler & Associates.

A:  Jon Kohler & Associates specializes in selling plantations, ranches, and high quality timberland, primarily in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. We’ve recently brought our services into South Carolina. Over the past 25 years, we have developed a specialty brokerage, such that we represent the major landowners and investors in the plantation niche. We are best known as the preeminent source of knowledge of high-quality land investment opportunities and for representing the very top properties in this niche.

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Since the “market-reset” of 2008 alone, we have closed nearly 200,000 acres. Examples include some of the most prestigious plantation sales in the Thomasville/Tallahassee and Albany markets such as Disston (twice), Greenwood, Longpine, Southern Heritage, and Nochaway, as well as holding title to the largest timberland sale (Rock Creek/Molpus) in the Southeast in eight years.

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Jon Kohler with wife Erica and sons Ashton and Greyson

 

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