Monthly Archives: June 2015

Law students learning how to see new legal challenges as opportunities

By Nelson P. Miller

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law, explains why the firms that will prosper and the lawyers who will thrive are the ones seeing change and challenge as opportunities.
A recent Altman Weil survey confirms that law firms still face transition issues even while on the whole now recovering nicely from the Great Recession’s severe downturn. Forward-looking firms are embracing those transition issues as opportunities, just as the law school’s new Law Practice series of elective courses helps graduates to respond.

On the positive side, the law consulting firm Altman Weil’s recently released seventh annual Law Firms in Transition survey shows two-thirds of participating firms reporting 2014 increases in revenue and partner profits. One third of firms report that demand for services is back at pre-recession levels, while more than another third of firms expect to reach pre-recession demand levels soon.

On the challenges side, more than half of firms report that partners are not yet sufficiently busy, suggesting continued over-capacity at those firms. Part of the problem is that non-firm vendors, technology tools, and non-traditional firms continue to take business from traditional law firms. Two thirds of firms also report corporate clients moving more work to in-house law departments.

Interestingly, less than half of firms are implementing staffing, pricing, or efficiency strategies to improve their economic performance, even though the survey results show clear correlation between such reforms and improved economics. The survey’s authors suggest that the time remains ripe for strategic leadership within firms facing the current performance pivot point.

The law school is not leaving its graduates behind the firms’ new learning curve. Faculty members have designed the curriculum’s new Law Practice series of six elective courses to help graduates respond to these transition issues. The series’ courses include not just the new or updated Law Office Management, Transitioning to Practice, and Writing for Practice courses that serve as practice foundations but also new Technology, Lawyer Finances, and Business Development courses that point graduates forward to new opportunities in the delivery of legal services.

The firms that will prosper and the lawyers who will thrive in these changing times are the ones seeing change and challenge as opportunities. Individuals, corporations, charitable organizations, and government agencies need the creativity, problem solving, and sensibility of lawyers more than ever before. The law school remains committed to helping its students, recent graduates, and alumni find bolster traditional practices while finding new opportunity to serve.

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Campus law graduates control their own destiny in small firms

Associate Dean Nelson Miller

Associate Dean Nelson Miller

Several recent graduates of the law school’s Grand Rapids campus are forming, expanding, or merging their own small law firms, showing success in another sector beyond the campus’s placements with large and mid-size law firms. Campus Dean Nelson Miller has recognized for a long time that the Grand Rapids campus has had graduates joining premier small area law firms such as premier small area law firms such as Bos & Glazier having the largest medical-negligence verdict in the area, Willey & Chamberlain handling complex criminal litigation, and the 130-year-old Wheeler Upham representing clients from individuals all the way to Fortune 500 companies.  Campus graduates, though, have also formed and expanded highly successful small law firms of their own.

Jordan Hoyer

Jordan Hoyer

WMU-Cooley graduate Jordan Hoyer fairly recently formed her own firm, The Law Office of Jordan C. Hoyer, PLLC, focusing on commercial and financial services litigation. She also employed fellow graduate Erika Hunting, along with two other longtime area lawyers.  The Dallas law firm Talcott Franklin P.C. just recently acquired Jordan’s law firm and appointed her as the managing attorney for the regional office.

Erika Hunting

Erika Hunting

Jordan’s success attracted Talcott Franklin P.C. when the national securities-litigation firm was looking for a Midwest base to continue its tradition of sophisticated civil litigation.  Jordan, Erika, and the other lawyers in Jordan’s firm will now incorporate Talcott’s national work into their existing local and regional practice base, confirming Jordan’s extraordinary early success.

Andy Rodenhouse

Andy Rodenhouse

Jessica Kuipers

Jessica Kuipers

Campus graduates Andrew Rodenhouse and Jessica Kuipers formed their Grand Rapids law firm, Rodenhouse Kuipers, several years ago offering a variety of services with an emphasis on criminal defense, attorney grievance, and character and fitness defense. Their success led to the new firm’s swift expansion.

Jim Sterken

Jim Sterken

They recently named Jim Sterken, a campus graduate who focuses on civil litigation and estate planning, and Audra McClure, a Lansing campus graduate who focuses on domestic relation litigation, as additional partners due to their continued success at the firm. The firm also employs another recent graduate, Chris Newberg, who works with businesses in the fields of art, entertainment, advertising, communications, digital media, cyberspace, emerging technologies, and intellectual property creation.

Audra McClure

Audra McClure

Chris Newberg

Chris Newberg

The firm credits its success to the entrepreneurial spirit of its attorneys as well as the support that is continually given by the legal community.  “We started our own firm for a variety of reasons, but the most important reasons are the freedom to control our destiny, the ability to potentially influence positive change within the legal community, and the liberty to do what we truly are passionate about,” attorney Kuipers stated.  From being involved in a large multi-jurisdictional lawsuit to attorney Rodenhouse’s recent arguments  before the Michigan Supreme Court, expect big things in the near future from Rodenhouse Kuipers.

Ross Plont

Ross Plont

Campus graduates continue to establish and expand successful law practices. 

Campus graduate Ross Plont, who not too long ago formed the Grand Rapids law firm Newton Plont after having begun his career as an associate at the premier small firm Gruel Mills, recently announced the firm’s hiring of campus graduate Dan Fricke, whom Ross sponsored for swearing in after Dan just received welcome news of his having passed the bar.  Dan is the firm’s first associate as the firm continues to grow its litigation practice.

According to attorney Ross Plont, the “real-world” education at Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus “prepared me to hit the ground running in a fast-paced litigation firm where I handled complex civil-litigation claims. Working cases with recent law-school grads from other schools, particularly early on, really made me appreciate the education that I received at Cooley. The practical foundation that Cooley provided, combined with the real-world experience I gained from my mentors at Gruel Mills Nims & Pylman PLLC, enabled me to team up with my partner, Stephanie Newton, in the formation of Newton Plont, PLLC. Being my own boss was one of the objectives I had when I decided to go to law school, and the education that I received at the Grand Rapids campus of Cooley Law School was an integral part of achieving that objective.”


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Force. Fear. Coercion. How human trafficking victims fall prey and how to stop modern day slavery.

There are plenty of myths and misconceptions about human trafficking. Some believe that human trafficking does not occur in the United States. Others think that human trafficking victims are only foreign born, or that they are always poor. Some have the misconception that human trafficking is only sex trafficking. Nothing could be further from the truth.

WMU-Cooley law students listened to experts on the topic of human trafficking during an expert panel discussion called “The Slave Next Door: Stop Human Trafficking Today,” held on Thursday, June 18. It was hosted by WMU-Cooley’s Student Bar Association (SBA) and the American Bar Association Law Student Division (ABA/LSD).

Panel experts speak to WMU-Cooley law school students during "The Slave Next Door: Stop Human Trafficking Today" event on June 19, 2015.

Panel experts speak to WMU-Cooley law school students during “The Slave Next Door: Stop Human Trafficking Today” event on June 19, 2015.

Experts from The State of Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force convened at the law school to shed light on the serious crime of human trafficking and to describe how victims fall prey at the entry level, and how control — physical and/or emotional — through force, fear, or coercion, keeps individuals chained to what experts call modern day slavery. The task force is made up of over 90 member agencies committed to a collaborative effort to identify and rescue victims, prosecute offenders, restore victims, and educate those in Michigan of human trafficking, in both sexual and labor exploitation.

According to experts, victims fall prey when traffickers are able to exploit their insecurities, such as:

  • past sexual abuse
  • bad family past
  • feelings of low self-worth
  • feelings that this is the only way to save the relationship

These tactics, and many others, are tools that traffickers use to exercise control over victims.

“As a law student, opportunities and events like this one are so important in understanding the complex issues that we will be faces with as practicing attorneys,” stated WMU-Cooley ABA/LSD President April Alleman. “Having the ABA/LSD and the SBA able to get expert speakers on Human Trafficking leads to so much awareness in our school, which leads to more awareness in the community. I am so thankful that I get to be a part of it.”

Experts say that education and awareness are key to stopping human trafficking. If people understand and are aware of human trafficking, it can go a long way in decreasing the demand for human trafficking.  Go to The U.S. Department of State site to find out 20 Ways You Can Help Fight Human Trafficking.

The distinguished panel of experts for “The Slave Next Door: Stop Human Trafficking Today” event included:

Jane White: Director of Human Trafficking Task Force at MSU
Senator Judy Emmons: Works at the grass roots level with real-life survivors to craft legislation aimed at stopping this unthinkable crime
Kelly Carter: Assistant Attorney General, Senior Attorney Specialist, prosecuting human trafficking
Detective Amber Kinney- Hinohosa: Works and specializes in cases involving human trafficking and as a witness in multiple trials

WMU-Cooley Law School students April Alleman (far left) and Yanique Kennedy (far right) with Human Trafficking panel speakers (left to right) Jane White, Director of Human Trafficking Task Force at Michigan State University. Senator Judy Emmons, has been working at the grass roots level with real life survivors to craft legislation aimed at stopping this unthinkable crime. Kelly Carter, Assistant Attorney General, Senior Attorney Specialist, prosecuting human trafficking Detective Amber Kinney- Hinohosa, has worked and specializes in cases involving human trafficking and as been a witness in multiple trials.

WMU-Cooley law students April Alleman (far left) and Yanique Kennedy (far right) join “The Slave Next Door: Stop Human Trafficking Today” panel speakers (center, left to right) Kelly Carter, assistant attorney general – senior attorney specialist prosecuting human trafficking; Senator Judy Emmons; Jane White, director of human trafficking task force at Michigan State University, and Detective Amber Kinney- Hinohosa.


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Dads make the difference for daughters (and sons) in law school: A Father’s Day tribute

Once a year we are all called to reflect on “How our father has made a difference in our life.” For daughters going to law school, dad may have especially played an even larger role in that decision. For many, he may have been the source of their inspiration for following their heart, and the one keeping them focused on the dream of becoming a lawyer. The same goes for dads and sons.

Western Michigan University Cooley Law School students pay tribute to their dad and the difference he has made in their life and throughout their law school journey. 

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Natalie Winquist with her dad.

“Even after 36 years in the profession, my father‘s desire and drive is contagious; his loyalty and ability to build lasting, meaningful client relationships and advocate on their behalf to the best of his ability has inspired me tremendously. His honesty, integrity, and respect within the legal community has made me proud, and his passion is something I strive to emulate, which, ultimately, led me to this profession – and for that I am thankful.” – WMU-Cooley law student Natalie Winquist

Zoya Shpigelman and her dad - Then and Now.

Zoya Shpigelman and her dad – then and now.

“Mere words would not do justice to describe this man. This is a man who always put his best foot forward to take care of his family. This is a man who taught me how to strive for success despite obstacles that may come in my way. This is a man who always provided and continues to provide love, security, understanding, and guidance for me throughout all stages of my life. He has encouraged me to pursue my legal education with fervor, passion, and gratitude. I’m so thankful for my father’s insight on everything I ever choose to do in my lifetime. He tells me every day how blessed he feels that I will be in a position to make a real difference in people’s lives because he truly feels attorneys should do their best to be advocates for human kind.” – WMU-Cooley law student Zoya Shpigelman


Syed Ali, father of Shahnaz Ali, embraces his grandchildren

“I am so grateful for my father, Syed Ali, and the important role he has played with helping me in my journey through law school.  He helps me with my kids so that I can commute, allows me to use his hotel discount, and is always asking me what I need.  I don’t know what I would do without him.  Happy Father‘s Day, dad!” – WMU-Cooley law student Shahnaz Ali


Erika Morgan’s dad

“My father has been so instrumental in my success in law school by always making sure that he prays for me – and he makes sure to tell me to get my “rest!”  He encourages me to do my best and he is my BIGGEST supporter on this law journey. His unfailing love and support is what keeps me going through this very trying process. He truly enjoys my journey, and for that DAD … I honor and love you! Happy Father’s Day!” – WMU-Cooley law student Erika Morgan


Kai Hullum’s dad

“My father is the hardest working man I know. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be in law school today. I am so happy to have him in my life. There isn’t enough I can do to show him how appreciative I am. I hope he has a wonderful Father’s Day.” – WMU-Cooley law student Kai Hullum





Rima Ali Yahfoufi with her dad - then and now.

Rima Ali Yahfoufi with her dad – then and now.

“You are one in a million. Words belittle the real meaning of how important you are. I can search the world and will never find a father like you – one who will sacrifice like you, and one who does all that you do for your family. You will always be appreciated because you have always cared. You will always be valued because you have always given us your time. You will always be respected because you have made us leaders. And you will always be loved because you always have given us the one thing we treasure the most – and that is you. You have inspired and motivated me my entire life. I want to thank you for believing in me. My future success carries your image as the dominant pillar holding me up, proud and strong. Your faith in me has been my foundation. Happy Father’s Day. I love you.” – WMU-Cooley law student Rima Ali Yahfoufi

DJ Remole and her parents on Graduation Day.

DJ Remole and her parents on Graduation Day.



Happy Father’s Day to the most amazing dad a girl could ask for! You have been a constant support to me through my years of schooling and have helped me achieve my dream. Thanks dad for everything! – WMU-Cooley May 2015 graduate DJ Remole




Let’s not forget sons says WMU-Cooley law student Willie Abney!
Willie Abney with his dad

Willie Abney with his dad

I am so blessed to have my father, Willie D. Abney Sr., in my life. He has been so influential, especially while I have been in law school. He is someone who is easy to talk to and is always there when I need him. A lot of my character traits I get from him. He is the friendliest man I know and he would give his last breath to help someone in need. As a pastor, I know he is very busy, but he always takes time out to make sure that the family is okay. What more can you ask? Thanks, dad, for everything.

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Rising stars: Law students shine in Litigation with the Stars mock trial

On Wednesday, June 10, 2015, WMU-Cooley Law School’s Career and Professional Development Office and the law school’s Mock Trial Board hosted an event called Litigation with the Stars featuring up-and-coming law student litigators.  Over 100 law students, along with faculty and staff, enjoyed this simulated courtroom experience and observed rising stars Carla Pollara and Milad Parchami develop the case for and against “Mr. Flynn.”

Watch as rising star Carla Pollara gives her opening statement and holds the members of the jury spellbound.

“You see this case is not about what happened at a football game or the Pink Dolphin,” began WMU-Cooley law student Carla Pollara in her opening statement at the Litigation with the Stars event. “This case comes down to what happened at the intersection of Central Avenue and 4th Street. What happened in that split second, that split second, that Robert Flynn was put into an unexpected and sudden emergency situation. And in that moment, he acted like any one of us would have done.”

Pollara went on to prove her case, while building and demonstrating the litigation skills she’s learned while in law school.

“Being a member of the Mock Trial Board and advocating at the “Litigation with the Stars” event has allowed me to get comfortable with my craft before I’ve even obtained my bar card. I feel confident that when I begin to practice law my nerves will be at ease compared to other new attorneys who have never argued a case in front of a judge and jury before. The opportunity to polish my skills while I’m still in school is an invaluable resource for me and for all the law students here,” declared Carla Pollara.

WMU-Cooley Tampa Bay students Carla Pollara and Milad Parchami  demonstrated their courtroom skills during the law school's Litigation with the Stars event.

WMU-Cooley Tampa Bay students Carla Pollara and Milad Parchami demonstrated their courtroom skills during the law school’s Litigation with the Stars event.

See the entire program (1:48:26)

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WMU-Cooley Professor Lisa DeMoss makes sense of the new Health Insurance laws

Professor Lisa DeMoss

Professor Lisa DeMoss

Professor Lisa Sewell DeMoss is WMU-Cooley’s director of the Master of Laws Program in Insurance Law and the law school’s in-house expert on the difficult and complicated subject of insurance law. She is a wealth of knowledge on the topic and on many of the new developments being reviewed and considered inside the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Below she makes sense of the new health insurance laws and her legal take on what can or may happen.

On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama put his signature on an historic piece of social legislation that fundamentally changed the private market for sale of individual and small group health insurance products in America. It has provided meaningful access to health care services for millions of Americans, financed through a shared burden of individual and employer-based financial incentives and subsidies, new excise and income taxes, and expanded participation in the jointly financed Medicaid program. These financial interdependencies provide essential funding to support the affordability and accessibility of individual consumers’ participation in the private health insurance markets. Indeed, without the premium subsidies provided by the ACA, the majority of consumers who have purchased individual policies on the health insurance exchanges established in 2014 under market reform provisions of the ACA would not be able to afford unsubsidized insurance products, based on the statutory definition of affordability.

The ACA has endured many legal challenges, three of which have been accepted by and reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court. In the most recent appeal, King v. Burwell, the Court has been asked to determine that the language of the ACA expressly limits the availability of premium subsidies for individual health policies to insurance sold in markets established by state governments. In fact, of the 7.3 million polices sold under the ACA in 2014, 5 million were purchased on the federal electronic health insurance exchange, www., which was developed by the federal government to provide American consumers with access to ACA-based coverage in the 34 states that elected not to establish their own state-based markets for ACA compliance coverage. Of those 5 million purchases in 2014, 4 million received premium assistance because the purchasers qualified as individuals whose household incomes were equal to or less than 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level.

A decision in King v. Burwell that eliminates premium subsidies for the newly insured in those 34 states is predicted to create significant disruption in the insurance markets. While Congress could easily address the language issue in a one sentence amendment to the ACA, virtually no one is predicting that the current Congress will take such action. Given the dire predictions of massive premium payment default, loss of newly acquired coverage by millions of Americans, the unlikelihood of state construction of new health insurance exchanges now that the developmental grants have expired under the ACA, a significant increase in the volume of uncompensated care provided by hospitals and doctors and the underwriting effects on the individual health coverage risk pools, it is conceivable that the political response to the elimination of premium subsidies will involve some sort of extension of the subsidies through the next presidential election cycle.

Regardless, the subsidies are inextricably linked to the requirement that each American be financially responsible for obtaining ACA-compliant, affordable health care coverage. Without an effective individual coverage mandate once millions of Americans are excused from compliance due to the unaffordability of unsubsidized coverage, will the balance of the ACA survive? Will the sickest of those who again find themselves uninsured migrate to the remaining states that offer subsidized coverage through their state insurance exchanges? Or, will a new political solution emerge to re-establish good health equality for all Americans as promised by the ACA? A decision by the Supreme Court is expected in June or July of 2015.


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WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Client Kenneth Wyniemko: Celebrating 12 Years of Freedom

WMU-Cooley Innocence Project client Kenneth Wyniemko with Marla Mitchell-Cichon, director of WMU-Cooley’s Innocence Project.

WMU-Cooley Innocence Project client Kenneth Wyniemko with Marla Mitchell-Cichon, director of the Project.

In 1970, Kenneth Wyniemko wore number 12 as a Detroit Junior Red Wing hockey player. Today, the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project and Kenneth Wyniemko are celebrating the 12th year of Ken’s freedom. Wyniemko was exonerated after DNA testing proved he was innocent.

Wyniemko spent nine years in prison for criminal sexual conduct, breaking and entering and armed robbery-crimes he didn’t commit. Through the efforts of the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project and panel attorney Gail Pamukov, Mr. Wyniemko was released from prison on June 17, 2003.

Mr. Wyniemko did not fit the victim’s description of the perpetrator and there was no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Both the police and prosecutor contributed to the wrongful conviction by eliciting a false statement from a jail inmate. Five years after his exoneration, the true perpetrator, Craig Gonser, was identified through the Combined Offender Database System (CODIS). Tragically, Gonser could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had run. Since then, the time limitation has been amended to prevent this injustice (MCL 767(3)(b). But another injustice continues as Michigan remains one of 20 states that do not provide compensation for those who have been wrongfully convicted.

"12" on Ken Wyniemko's birthday cake to commemorate 12 years of freedom, Mr. Wyniemko was exonerated on June 17, 2003. Wyniemko's birthday is June 15.

“12” on Ken Wyniemko’s birthday cake to commemorate 12 years of freedom, Mr. Wyniemko was exonerated on June 17, 2003. Wyniemko’s birthday is June 15.

This week Wyniemko spent his birthday, June 15, preparing to testify before the House Criminal Justice Committee in support of a compensation law that would provide $60,000 a year to Michigan’s wrongfully convicted. But it wasn’t all work and no play. WMU-Cooley Innocence Project staff and students celebrated Ken’s birthday with dinner, balloons and cake. It was a casual, fun event, but the gravity of the needed reforms was not lost in the celebration. Ken encouraged Cooley students, “I’m so glad to see young people pick up the torch for the next generation. We all want a system that works.”

On June 16, Ken and fellow exoneree, Julie Baumer, testified on behalf of Michigan exonerees in support of proposed House Bill 4536. “The most important thing is for people to get justice that’s long overdue,” Wyniemko said. According to the National Registry of Exonerations there have been 55 exonerations in Michigan since 1989. These individuals receive no support or services from the state once they are released. The proposed law would be a step in the right direction.

Mr. Wyniemko’s case illustrates glaring shortcomings in our criminal justice system—the inherit problems with eyewitness identification, jailhouse snitches, wrongful confessions, inadequate legal representation, police and prosecutorial misconduct—all present in his case. And that is why he is a tireless advocate to change the system.

(Kenneth Wyniemko’s case will be chronicled in his forthcoming book, Deliberate Injustice.)

Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon

Professor Marla Mitchell-Cichon

The author, Marla Mitchell-Cichon, is the director of WMU-Cooley Law School’s Innocence Project.  Professor Mitchell-Cichon has extensive practice experience in criminal and poverty law. Her litigation experience includes practicing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, the Ohio Supreme Court, and trial courts in both Ohio and Michigan. She joined WMU-Cooley Law School in July 1995 and also teaches in the Sixty Plus, Inc., Elderlaw Clinic and Professional Responsibility.

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