Category Archives: Student Experiences

All Cooley graduates have practiced law in a supervised setting before graduation. Here, students share their experiences through Cooley’s blog as they move the the process.

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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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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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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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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Military Feature John O’Neill: Sees bright 2nd career in the law after serving country for 28 years

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, we feature WMU-Cooley law student John O’Neill who retired from the U.S. Army at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel after 28 years of active service.

Military rank and title: Ret. U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel

Why law school and WMU-Cooley: As my retirement drew near, the natural progression for many of my peers was to go into government service or to serve as a civilian military contractor. Yet those options did not appeal to me. Law school did. My biggest concern, though, was time. I knew that I didn’t want to spend three years attending school after I retired. Fortunately I was stationed in Michigan when I heard about WMU-Cooley Law School’s flexible scheduling options and generous scholarships. I was able to start taking classes part-time while I was still on active duty, which allowed me to complete half of my courses before I retired. Now that I have less than a year to go before I graduate from law school, I am looking forward to launching a new second career as a public defender.

Career description:  While serving in Alabama in the ’90s, I completed a bachelor of science degree in Justice Studies from  Athens State College, along with a master of science degree in Management from Troy State University.  I received my commission as an Army Aviator from Alabama A&M University where I was cross-enrolled in their ROTC program. Over the decades, I have served throughout the world, including Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Germany. My military career consisted of: 4 years (1984-1988) as an enlisted infantryman with the second Ranger Battalion in Ft. Lewis, Washington, and 24 years (1991-2015) as a commissioned officer. During the years in between (1988-1991), I also served as a police officer in Huntsville, Alabama.

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Career responsibilities: I have served at every level of management in the U.S. Army, most recently as the Network Integration Lead for the Program Executive Office , Ground Combat Systems, until my retirement. I was responsible for the integration and commonality of all networked systems among the Army’s ground combat fleets, plus the coordination of all staff actions within a PEO that manages the entire Abrams Main Battle Tank fleet, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle fleet, and numerous other ground combat systems.

Decorations: Legion of Merit,  Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal (2), Meritorious Service Medal (5),  Joint Service Commendation Medal (2) , Army Commendation Medal (3), and  Army Achievement Medal (4)

Skill Qualifications: Senior Army Aviator Wings, Ranger Tab, Parachutist Wings, Expert Infantryman Badge, Air Assault Wings, Jungle Expert Badge

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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.”

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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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Everyone is a Kid on Cooley for Kids Day!

This July, WMU-Cooley Law School hosted its 16th annual Cooley for Kids Day. It was another sunny, perfect day. Hundred of kids shared in the festivities of the day, including the traditional parade around the outfield, pre-ceremony activities, and an afternoon to relax and take in a Lansing Lugnuts ball game.   

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What was unclear was who was having more fun – the kids or the law students! 

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Everything about the day is about the kids. But the fun begins well before the actual day. Kids spend the weeks before Cooley for Kids Day designing amazing and colorful student-made banners, all to be proudly displayed during the walk around the outfield as part of the parade festivities.

Kids are asked early in the summer to write essays for the chance to be selected for the nine-person Dream Team. Winning team members, nine kids and nine law students, get to run together from the dugout to their designated ball player on the field before game start. A child and a law student also get to throw out a first pitch as part of the pre-game celebration. This year, Andrea Woods was the law student who had the privilege to sing the national anthem.

After the Dream Team runs off the field, the children receive a gift bag from WMU-Cooley, then join the rest of the kids to spend the afternoon taking in a Lansing Lugnuts baseball game, which includes lunch and a memento of the day. Law students get to join other faculty and staff in the Owner’s Suite to enjoy the game and lunch, and a well-deserved break from their studies.20160725_114316-COLLAGE

Every year, we look forward to Cooley for Kids Day.  It’s always an amazing, fun time, and we know we can count on a beautiful day with great weather. After all, in 16 years we are batting a thousand!

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