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.

Entertainment Law attorney John Mashni: Know the law. Know the industry.

Entertainment law attorney and WMU-Cooley graduate John Mashni gave law students important insights on how to break into the Sports & Entertainment law field during a recent conversation at the law school. “I think, for entertainment, there’s value in thinking about who do I want to spend time with, who’s my client, who do I want to represent, and start from there,” Mashni said. “You’re going to have to know the law, but more importantly, you’re going to have to know the industry.”

You should also know the “lingo” and the process that goes into film, music and literary projects. LISTEN to his talk.

WMU-Cooley Law School Sports and Entertainment Law Society hosted a discussion with featured speaker John Mashni, business and entertainment attorney for Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC, on Tuesday, March 28.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

He spoke to WMU Cooley faculty, staff and students about his experiences in entertainment law and active career steps that can help attorneys break into the industry. In his career, Mashni worked as the manager of a media department for a large leadership development company and did freelance work on numerous film and video projects and completed coursework at the New York Film Academy.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni Stories and News, Student News, The Value of a Legal Education, Uncategorized

Judge Donald L. Allen: Years to Develop your Reputation, Seconds to Destroy it

“We talk a lot about integrity. I think there is one thing people need to understand. It takes years, maybe even decades, to develop a reputation for your integrity, for your professionalism. It takes years and years of doing the right thing, but it only takes seconds for that to be destroyed. Think about that for just a second. Years to develop a reputation that you would be proud of, seconds to destroy.” – Judge Donald L. Allen on integrity during WMU-Cooley Law School’s Integrity in Our Community award ceremony.

Judge Allen spoke to WMU-Cooley law students, faculty and staff about the importance of values, integrity and preserving one’s reputation at the Integrity award ceremony. He went on to say, “The ability to help others challenge injustice and to make sure what is wrong is made right is one of the privileges of a law degree. Law students are learning how to be in a position to earn a living basically helping other people. That is a tremendous privilege. I want to leave you with a quote, and this quote comes from John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He says, ‘With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.'”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Judge Allen is the presiding judge of the 55th District Court Sobriety Court, which focuses on the rehabilitation of repeat offense substance abusers in Ingham County. He has spent most of his professional career as an assistant attorney general at the state’s attorney general office. In 2005, Allen was appointed deputy legal counsel to Gov. Jennifer Granholm. The following year, Granholm appointed him to serve as director of the Office of Drug Control Policy, which he served until his 55th District Court appointment in 2008. Judge Allen was appointed chief judge of the court by the Michigan Supreme Court on Jan. 1, 2016. Watch Judge Allen’s speech (25:31)

Leave a comment

Filed under Awards, Ethics, Latest News and Updates, The Value of a Legal Education, Uncategorized

Law Student from Germany Learns What Real Freedom Means While Helping the Wrongfully Convicted

I’m a 22 years old law student from Germany. As part of an international exchange program, I spent my last term doing a study abroad experience here at WMU-Cooley Law School. Coming to Michigan, and working with the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project, was an experience I will never forget – Anna-Lisa Benkhoff, Muenster University law student and WMU-Cooley Innocence Project intern

When I decided to come to America and attend WMU-Cooley Law School, I had no idea what kind of experiences it would bring. Growing up, I always sought out new opportunities and to challenge myself. I heard about the WMU-Innocence Project when I was looking into study abroad opportunities in the United States. I was excited about the idea that students got to work on actual criminal cases with real people who have been wronged. I especially like that I would learn practical knowledge and skills in the law.

The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project fights against wrongful convictions in post-conviction cases, using DNA-testing to prove innocence.

I spent much of my time in the law clinic working on one case. Our client was convicted of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, involving two perpetrators. It was the first case I ever worked on and it was an unbelievable experience. I actually was able to meet our client in prison.

Once I got to meet him in person, I knew I was working for the right reasons. It means a lot to be able to help someone who has been wronged get out of prison.

Based on our work, the client was granted an evidentiary hearing on the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project’s motion under MCR 6.500. During the hearing, the judge heard our newly discovered evidence. From that evidence, the judge must decide whether to grant our client a new trial.

In addition to doing research to support the case, I wrote legal memos and assisted in preparing the case for litigation. I feel so proud that I helped to prepare the paperwork needed for our client’s evidentiary hearing. I helped to prepare a witness list and questions for direct and cross examinations.

 During the hearing, WMU-Cooley Innocence Project interns questioned witnessed on the stand – just like a real lawyer.

The evidentiary hearing took four days, and is now submitted to the court for a decision.

Even though I’m leaving the United States and the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project, I will continue to follow its important work. I had a such a great time and got to meet so many nice and very cool people. I now realize the hard work it takes to improve the criminal justice system. I would recommend this experience to anyone. Not only do you gain practical legal skills and experience, you have the privilege of doing something very important – saving someone from life imprisonment when they have been wrongfully convicted. It was unforgettable.

WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon and German International Exchange Program law student Anna-Lisa Benkhoff.

WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon and German International Exchange Program law student Anna-Lisa Benkhoff.

Leave a comment

Filed under Student Experiences, study abroad, The Value of a Legal Education, Uncategorized, WMU-Cooley Innocence Project

Contracts quintessential first-year course: Law school professor makes his case

WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Otto StockmeyerBlog author WMU-Cooley Distinguished Professor Emeritus Otto Stockmeyer presented a paper at the 2017 annual conference of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts & Letters, held March 10, 2017, on the campus of Western Michigan University. He titled his presentation “Reflections on Teaching the First Day of Contracts Class.” Professor Stockmeyer offered his thoughts on why he believes Contracts is the most significant course in the first-year curriculum, why the study of contract law should begin with the subject of remedies, and why Hawkins v. McGee (the “hairy hand” case made famous by the book and movie versions of The Paper Chase) makes an ideal starting point.

In my view, Contracts is the quintessential first-year course. It presents an excellent introduction to the common law and legal reasoning. The course is foundational to several upper-level courses, and the best predictor of law school success.  Lawyers have reported that they use Contracts in their practice almost twice as much as any other law school subject.

Although traditionalists begin the course with offer and acceptance, there are both pedagogical and practical reasons to start with remedies. Studying remedies is not easy going for beginning students, who tend to hate working with numbers. But they tell me that they like difficult topics placed early in the term so they have longer to process the material.

The most important reason to start with remedies is the opportunity to begin the first day’s class with Hawkins v. McGee.

Here are my Top Ten reasons why:

10. The opinion immediately demonstrates to beginning students their need for a law dictionary. The first paragraph alone contains five legal terms.

9. The opinion shows how judges sometimes load their opinions with empty overstatements, such as “clearly” and “obviously” when the facts were neither.

8. The opinion demonstrates the process of analysis that courts employ when direct legal authority is lacking.

7. The opinion allows an early exploration of some distinctions between tort (medical malpractice) and contract (promise of 100 percent success) in a context readily understood by beginning students.

6. The opinion revolves around two of the central themes in Contract law: the objective theory of assent and the expectation objective of contract remedies.

5. The opinion is an excellent introduction to remedies and the difference between tort and contract damages.

4. The opinion illustrates that general principles are easier to state than to apply.

3. The opinion has more poignancy than the commercial disputes that will follow.

2. The case has a rich subsequent history that can be explored as time permits.

1. Three words: The Paper Chase. Many students will have read the book or rented the movie. They expect Contracts to begin with a study of the “hairy hand” case. Disappoint them the first day and they may question their choice of law schools.

The Paper Chase

The movie version of this law school classic contains two scenes that I’ve used in my class. The first is Professor Kingsfield’s ‘skull full of mush’ explanation of why law schools use the Socratic method. That needs to be addressed the first day.

The second is Kingsfield’s encounter with a student, Mr. Hart. After recapping the facts of Hawkins v. McGee, Kingsfield asks, ‘Now Mr. Hart, what sort of damages do you think the doctor should pay?’

I then would call on several students and ask whether Mr. Hart gave the right answer (no, he didn’t). The ice having been broken, another term of Contracts has been successfully launched.

Read the full text of Professor Stockmeyer’s paper on the Social Science Research Network.

Leave a comment

Filed under Faculty Scholarship, Knowledge, The Value of a Legal Education, Uncategorized

So, You Want to Be a Criminal Lawyer? Seven Things Your Law School Should Offer

krause-phelan_tonyaBlog author WMU-Cooley Law School Auxiliary Dean and Professor Tonya Krause-Phelan teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Defending Battered Women, Criminal Sentencing, and Ethics in Criminal Cases. She coaches national mock trial and moot court teams with the West Michigan Defenders Clinic and frequently appears as a commentator on numerous radio, television, print, and internet media sources regarding criminal law and procedure issues.

When I attended law school in the late ’80s, becoming a criminal practitioner was probably the least desired career choice a law student could make. At that time, many law students, law professors, and practitioners alike thought that the only people who would “settle” for a job as a public defender or as a prosecutor were those who could not get a job with a mega-firm or as in-house counsel for a Fortune 500 company.

Because I knew when I went to law school I wanted to be a public defender, I followed my passion instead of conventional wisdom. I was fortunate enough to land a job right out of law school as a public defender.  Eventually, I went into private practice, where I specialized in criminal defense. But, I never gave up my passion for indigent defense, and as a result, I continued to accept court-appointed cases. Throughout my many years of practice, criminal practitioners continued to be viewed as a sub-category of lawyers.

But, nothing could be further from the truth. Criminal practitioners are some of the most passionate, dedicated, and talented lawyers in the profession. After all, practicing in the area of criminal law is not for the faint of heart; it is one of the most demanding, challenging, and specialized areas of practice with clients’ lives and liberty literally hanging in the balance. With everything known today about DNA exoneration cases, mistaken identification cases, police shootings, and other systemic and ethical challenges facing the criminal justice system, people have changed their minds about public defenders, criminal defense lawyers, and prosecutors. Today people are actually deciding to attend law school for the specific purpose of becoming a criminal practitioner.

For those who want to become a criminal practitioner, they should look for a law school that does everything possible to adequately prepare its students for the rigors of a criminal practice. Whether a law school advertises itself as a “practice ready” school or not, several factors foretell a school’s pledge to preparing its students for criminal practice. Prospective law students interested in practicing criminal law should consider the following factors:

  1. Experienced Faculty: Professors who have practiced in the field are uniquely qualified to provide students with a practical context in which to learn substantive criminal law. Learn whether the professors who teach Criminal Law and Procedure practiced criminal law prior to becoming full-time faculty members.  Also, determine whether the school’s adjunct faculty are criminal practitioners. By hiring criminal law practitioners to serve as adjunct faculty, a law school demonstrates its dedication to keeping its curriculum current and relevant.
  2. Criminal Law-based Clinics: Ensure the law school hosts a clinic that focuses on criminal law, usually public defender or prosecutor clinics. Because many states allow students to work under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney, this type of clinical experience provides students with the ability to apply the knowledge and skills they have learned in the classroom to real-life, real-time clients.
  3. Innocence Project: Several law schools run Innocence Project programs. In these programs students have the responsibility to investigate and process cases for individuals who have been wrongfully convicted. Nothing speaks louder about a law school’s commitment to the efficacy of the criminal justice system than its commitment to representing individuals who should not have been convicted and need assistance in gaining their freedom.
  4. A Strong Skills-based Program: Law schools that are committed to developing strong criminal practitioners will also have a strong skills-based program. Look at the classes the law school requires students to complete. A curriculum that requires several research and writing, trial and appellate advocacy, and other skills-based courses demonstrates that the school is preparing its students for practice.
  5. Community Collaboration and Engagement: Look to see if the law school regularly engages with community organizations and events.   By hosting and participating in events that foster interaction with community organizations, local leaders, and members of the criminal justice system, a law school demonstrates a strong responsibility to fostering and improving an ethical and dedicated criminal justice system.  Look to see if the law school has hosted or participated in round-table and panel discussions, town hall-style meetings, and lecture series that include such people as police officers, judges, criminal practitioners, and experts within the criminal justice system.
  6. Proximity to Local Courthouses, Legal Community, and Organizations: If a law school is close to courthouses, law firms, and other legal entities, law students will more likely augment their educational opportunities by visiting local courthouse, watching trials and other legal proceedings, connect with members of the bar, and become student members of local bar organizations, events, and public service opportunities.  Observing how lawyers conduct cases helps students develop their own skills.
  7. Strong Alumni Base: Finally, many law schools provide prospective students with a list of alumni. Ask the law school to provide you with a list of alumni who are practicing criminal law and contact them. Not only can alumni answer questions about practicing criminal law, they can discuss whether the school adequately prepared them for criminal practice.  Ask their advice regarding which elective classes to take, clinics or externships to apply for, and which extra-curricular activities most adequately prepared them for criminal practice.

Leave a comment

Filed under Faculty Scholarship, Knowledge, Skills, Student Experiences, The Value of a Legal Education, Uncategorized

Military Feature Brent Geers: Problem Solver at Heart

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 month’s feature is WMU-Cooley graduate Brent Geers, a U.S. Army Sergeant and Police Team Leader who was awarded the Combat Action Badge, and is a four-time recipient of the Army Commendation Medal.

Military rank and title: SGT (E-5), U.S. Army, Military Police Team Leader/Patrol Supervisor

Why did you decide to go to law school: I’ve always been intrigued with the law in the sense that it’s a puzzle, and I like putting puzzles together. At its best, you get five out of the six pieces you need to complete the puzzle; you – the lawyer – get to create that sixth piece. I consider myself a problem solver at heart. WMU-Cooley presented the perfect opportunity to study law while working and being home to take care of family. Additionally, the courses and professionals provided exposure to real-world law from Day One, something that as an independent attorney, is something I greatly appreciate.

Tell us about your military experience: I served on active duty for five years in the U.S. Army Military Police Corps. My duty placed me in Baumholder, Germany and Fort Knox, Kentucky, with deployments to Iraq from 2003-2004 and Afghanistan from 2005-2006. My military honors include the Valorous Unit Award as part of the 527th Military Police Company for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy, and the Griffin Award as part of the 92nd Military Police Company for being the best MP unit in the U.S. Army – Europe command. I was awarded the Combat Action Badge, and am a four-time recipient of the Army Commendation Medal. While my initial intent for joining the Army was to become a CID Warrant Office, my first four years saw me assigned to what are called field MP units – convoy escorts, EPW operations, perimeter security, etc. – and so I did very little traditional law enforcement. That all changed when I arrived at Fort Knox as a twice-deployed Sergeant. Fort Knox was a training post, and the MPs assigned there did nothing but traditional law enforcement. I immediately was assigned to be a Patrol Supervisor – the equivalent of a shift supervisor – and was responsible for up to five patrols per shift. Like the police we see out here, we were “the law” at Fort Knox, responding to everything from domestic violence incidents to suicides and medical assists 24 hours a day.

Career and future goals: Long term, I want to be a district court judge. I see the district court as the place to make the most positive impact on people. District court judges have a lot more tools at their disposal to help people besides straight punishment. For now, and for the duration of my career, I enjoy helping people empower those they trust, and help them provide for those they love; specifically through estate planning. I am also focused on building a thriving criminal appellate practice.

Tell us a little about you:  I am the father to my 14-month-old daughter Marlena, and husband to my wife of almost five years, Ronda. I was born and raised in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and am a proud product of the Grand Rapids Public Schools (Creston High School). I graduated from the University of Michigan as a first-generation college student, earning a B.A. in American Culture, with a minor in African American Studies. I also spent a year as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer working locally on adult literacy and neighborhood improvement issues before joining the U.S. Army.

20160505_103213

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni Stories and News, Military Feature, The Value of a Legal Education, Uncategorized

Weekend Program student Jake Dawson: Preparation. Provided. Perfect.

2016 WMU-Cooley Law School graduate and Weekend student Jake Dawson talks about his time at WMU-Cooley and how the weekend option and his extership experience in Missouri made all the difference in a challenging and rewarding career working in the family firm of Dawson Law Office in El Dorado Springs, Missouri.
Jacob Dawson from Dawson Law Office

I came to WMU-Cooley for one reason, and one reason only – the Weekend Program.

I got accepted to a lot of schools in my area, but the thought of being unemployed scared me, so when I found out that WMU-Cooley offered a weekend program, I jumped on it.

Fast forward, after graduating from WMU-Cooley Law School in 2016, I took the Missouri Bar Exam. I am proud to say that I passed that bar on my first try with an extremely high score. I was able to start my career immediately, and in less than a year, I can also say that I have been extremely busy, and enjoying every minute of it.
I decided when I graduated that I wanted to work in small town Southern Missouri, despite the fact that several large firms in the area approached me with job opportunities.

The law school’s national Externship Program was invaluable to me, plus I was able to do my externship in my home state of Missouri. I worked with a circuit court judge there and it was the best experience ever. I figure I received 10 job opportunities just from that experience alone! I have to say that the combination of the real world experience I received in my externship and the networking opportunities are exactly what students need in law school. The jobs are out there, and I appreciated all the help WMU-Cooley provides its students.

Easily, I know that I would not be at the level I am right out of law school if not for the education I received at WMU-Cooley. The focus on preparation was exactly what is needed in practice. Despite the fact that I’ve only been working for 90 days, I feel I am significantly more prepared than any of my colleagues who have been practicing much longer. I owe that to the law school’s rigorous curriculum and training. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to take a trial skills class or participate in mock trial. I feel students should take advantage of all they can during law school to give them an advantage going forward.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the faculty. They were great in the classroom and one-on-one. I can still reach out to them now as a graduate. In fact, I have had some extremely complex issues arise where I needed a theoretical academic opinion. Gracious faculty made themselves available and promptly and thoughtfully answered my questions. The character and integrity of the faculty should be commended. To have an academic, theoretical discussion with me speaks volume, especially since I’m no longer a student or preparing for the bar.

I thank WMU-Cooley for giving a non-traditional weekend student like me the opportunity to go to such an exceptional law school, all while I continue to work. The curriculum and faculty at WMU-Cooley Law School, in my opinion, rank right up there with any law school in the country.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alumni Stories and News, The Value of a Legal Education, Uncategorized, Weekend Program