Monthly Archives: May 2016

Professor Lauren Rousseau: Drug epidemic inflicts indescribable emotional pain on family and friends of addicts

lauren_rousseauBlog author WMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau is a strong advocate and frequent speaker on the very personal and painful topic of addiction. She will be one of many speakers from across the nation to bring this important topic to legislators and the community at a Unite to Face Addiction (UFAM) statewide rally at the State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan on June 2, 2016. The rally is aimed at increasing awareness and eliminating stigma associated with addiction, as well as communicating to legislators the urgent need for action to combat the opioid/heroin epidemic gripping our state and nation. UFAM is an organization working to unite the many grassroots, recovery-focused, prevention, support, and treatment organizations in Michigan around a common advocacy agenda.  For more information, or to participate in a rally, go to the UFAM website at ufamichigan.org.


It’s old news that the United States is in the midst of a drug epidemic of unprecedented proportions.  More than 129 people a day are dying from drug overdose in this country, and the scourge has hit all segments of the population – young and old, rich and poor, rural, suburban and inner-city, and every racial and ethnic group.  In 2014 – the most recent year for which we have accurate numbers – more than 1,700 people died of drug overdose in Michigan.  Our state currently ranks 18th in the nation in the number of overdose deaths.

These numbers are shocking, but it’s a whole new level of “real” when the drug epidemic makes a personal appearance in your life.  When you are close enough to it, you learn that the statistics mask a much greater number of casualties.  They don’t include the drug-related car accidents, suicides, or murders.  And they don’t reveal the indescribable emotional pain endured by family and friends of loved ones whose lives have been torn apart by addiction that ends in death.

In 2012, I was legal guardian for a young man who had developed an addiction to heroin.  He was like a son to me, and I loved him like my own.  The emotional trauma of dealing with his addiction – of trying everything in my power to help him find a healthier life path through multiple stints in rehab, counseling, recovery homes, negotiation, anger, love, detachment, support – was eclipsed only by the shock of learning one sunny afternoon that he had been murdered at the home of a friend.  He wouldn’t have been in that house, or with that friend, if it weren’t for his addiction.  He was 19 years old.

Every day, more than 129 new families can tell a story similar to mine – considerably more, because as I said, that number accounts only for death by overdose.  It doesn’t include death by – say, murder.  Taking a ride on the addiction roller coaster with a loved one that ends in death changes a person.  Many of us cope by becoming warriors – advocates for change in how addiction is perceived and treated in our communities and by our political leaders.  For too long, addiction has been treated as a crime warranting incarceration, and as a reflection of moral depravity.  The uninitiated believe that substance use is a choice, and wonder in disgust why the addict doesn’t just stop using.  We – the addiction warriors – know that addiction is a mental illness.  The compulsion to use is so powerful that it overrides all reason, all rational fear of negative consequences, even the fear of death.  We know that no one – no one – chooses to become an addict.  They may choose to pick up that first drink or drug, but once the “addiction switch” is flipped, the element of choice is gone.  The medical community characterizes addiction as a “bio-psycho-social” disease.  Recovery is possible, but frequently requires some form of mental health treatment in order for the addict to find a way out of the nightmare in which he has become trapped.

The drug epidemic has created an army of addiction warriors that is growing every day.  Grassroots organizations are springing up all around the country – many started by parents who have lost children to this disease – to provide education, support, prevention programs, and to advocate for change.  In Michigan, a new organization has been formed that seeks to unite these many grassroots organizations, as well as treatment facilities and other addiction-related nonprofits, for purposes of advocacy and public education.  Unite to Face Addiction-Michigan (UFAM) was started by the principals of a number of these addiction-related groups, as well as passionate individuals whose lives have been impacted by this disease – including myself.

April 7, 2015 Blog Forums Held on Heroin Addiction Generate Intense Interest

November 30, 2015 Blog Loss of child to addiction moves law professor to change criminal justice system paradigm from punishment and prison to treatment and recovery

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Bioethics conference sparks collaboration and important conversations

On March 17 and 18, 2016, Western Michigan University’s Center for the Study of Ethics in Society presented a conference called “Bioethics: Preparing for the Unknown.” WMU-Cooley professors and law students were well-represented among the speakers, presenting on topics such as informed consent, medical quarantines, youth health care, and drug addiction. The conference sparked important conversations surrounding the theme of uncertainty, a fundamental reality in bioethics. The study of bioethics brings to the forefront concepts of right and wrong, good and bad; blending and blurring the areas of philosophy, theology, history, law, and medicine.

(Left to right) WMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau, WMU President John Dunn, and Elaine Englehardt, professor of philosophy at Utah Valley University

(Left to right) WMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau, WMU President John Dunn, and Elaine Englehardt, professor of philosophy at Utah Valley University

Many topics were covered, including the unintended consequences of innovative medical technologies, public health planning for new diseases, incidental findings in clinical research and practice, prevention of medical error, and communication of risk.

The conference brought together presenters from around the nation and from many different universities, medical schools, and disciplines. Those universities included Emory, Michigan State, Grand Valley State, Central Michigan, University of Michigan Medical School, Indiana State, Loyola, Purdue, Stetson, Columbia, Utah Valley, Case Western, University of Iowa, University of Texas, University of Maryland, and the University of St. Louis.  Other speaker hailed from The Mayo Clinic, several Canadian universities, and from Sweden. Speakers were faculty experts from medical schools, philosophy professors, and graduate students; experts in communications, bioethics, and genetics, as well as speakers in other disciplines.

“It was so interesting learning about ethical issues that exist with respect to new, cutting-edge medical treatments,” said WMU-Cooley Professor Lauren Rousseau. “Medical research is taking us to a new era of disease treatment, but the cost and limitations of these new treatments force decisions that have ethical implications.” Professor Rousseau presented a paper entitled, “Paradigm Shift: How the Opioid Epidemic is Driving Change in Perception, Treatment, & the Law.”

WMU-Cooley Professor Christopher Trudeau presented a paper entitled, “Ethical Communication in Human-Subjects Research: Creating an Informed Consent That Effectively Communicates Risk and Promotes Personal Autonomy.”

“This was a wonderfully inclusive bioethics conference with a diverse audience,” said Professor Trudeau. “After my session discussing the ethics of communicating with research participants, one of the heads of such trials from the Mayo Clinic helped engage the group in a deeper discussion of how these issues practically impact a world-class research institution.”

Professors Tracey Brame and Devin Schindler of the WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus presented a paper entitled, “This Medication May Kill You: Cognitive Overload and Mandated Informed Consent.”

“The legal system has not yet caught up to the rapidly changing world of medical technology,” stated Professor Schindler. “This conference gave scholars and students from around the country the opportunity to discuss options for modernizing a legal system not yet well prepared for 21st century technology.”

“The interdisciplinary approach to the topic made for robust conversation among students and professors,” agreed Professor Brame. “The opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from WMU and other schools was invaluable.”

Professor Victoria Vuletich, a board member of the Center for the Study of Ethics in Society which sponsored the event,  facilitated the discussion on informed consent.  “It was invigorating and refreshing to explore the intersection of law and medicine. Representatives of some of finest national medical institutions particpiated in this discussion and their comments were educational and informative.  It always good to have cross-discipline ‘pollination.'”

(Left to right) Conference Coordinator Lindsay Hunter and Professor Sandra Borden, director of the Center for the Study of Ethics in Society

(Left to right) Conference Coordinator Lindsay Hunter and Professor Sandra Borden, director of the Center for the Study of Ethics in Society

In addition to WMU-Cooley law professors, WMU-Cooley law students participated as speakers at the conference. Christopher Marker, a 3L at the Grand Rapids campus, presented a paper entitled, “Quarantining an A-symptomatic Carrier: A Reasonableness Standard.” Holliann Willekes, another 3L at the Grand Rapids campus, presented a paper entitled, “Minors and Health Care.” And both of these law students joined WMU-Cooley Grand Rapids law student Daniel LoBello, and Kineta Sadler, a graduate student from Michigan State University, to participate in a panel discussion entitled, “Bioethics Training for Front Line Medical Providers and Staff: Legal and Ethical Issues.”

Conference attendees and speakers had an opportunity to interact socially at a dinner at the WMU Ethics Center the first night of the conference. WMU President John Dunn was in attendance, as well as a number of WMU professors. The entire event provided a wonderful opportunity for the WMU Cooley faculty and student speakers to interact with faculty and staff from WMU, and to explore ways in which law and bioethics intersect.

 

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Maryam Saleh: Exceptional Work Is Impossible Unless We Are Good People Too

Traditionally, each court hosting an induction ceremony for new attorneys asks the individual performing highest on the Bar exam to speak. This spring, The Hon. Craig C. Villanti, chief judge of the Florida Second District Court of Appeal, invited Maryam Saleh, a recent Western Michigan University Cooley Law School graduate and top Bar performer in the district, to speak on behalf of the attorneys being sworn in that day. The Second District covers 14 counties in five judicial circuits. There are five total District Courts of Appeal in Florida.

We are proud and honored of Maryam and her accomplishments. Below is her speech from May 9, 2016, along with video excerpts about her journey in life, in law school, and what drives her going forward.


Acting Chief Judge, your honors, may it please the court. My name is Maryam Saleh, and I am incredibly honored to stand before you today as a representative of the new class of lawyers being sworn into practice.

When Chief Judge Villanti called me and asked me to speak today, I was so excited I said yes without hesitation. A few days later, I realized what I had gotten myself into — I know they say lawyers love to talk, but I’d much rather make a compelling argument on paper than stand behind a podium and do it, so bear with me if I stumble through the next few minutes.

To my fellow new attorneys — congratulations on knowing enough about UCC-3 and limited partnerships to make it this far. Whether you have dreamt of practicing law your entire life or if becoming an attorney is just one step toward the fulfillment of a larger dream, today is the culmination of several years of hard work and dedication. And we should all be immensely proud of our accomplishments.

A few minutes ago, we made the following pledge: “I will never reject, from any consideration personal to myself, the cause of the defenseless or oppressed.”

This sentence is perhaps the truest embodiment of my journey to the law and my aspirations beyond it.

Being an attorney is the newest chapter in the story of my life, and it was my family history and my religious and moral upbringing that steered my storyline in this direction. I am the daughter of immigrants who, more than 35 years ago, left the politically repressive environment in their home country of Syria and eventually made their way to the United States, where they raised their four daughters to be fearless, proud, driven, and compassionate.

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For as long as I can remember, my father has pushed my sisters and me to excel, confident that if we set our minds to it, we could create lasting change in this world. My mother, whose background is in education, was a pillar of support and encouragement through every step of our academic endeavors and a never-ending source of emotional and spiritual nurturing. With every step we took, my parents reminded us to be mindful of the big picture: we were not working solely for personal accomplishment — the next degree, a new car, or a suburban house — but for the greater good, an admittedly abstract concept that, in my context at least, meant that my contribution to the betterment of “humanity” here in the United States would additionally include tackling the specific challenges facing the Muslim-American community, to which I also belonged. The constitutionally enshrined freedoms and the rule of law in the United States were an opportunity and an imperative to keep fighting against oppression, not an excuse to become comfortably apathetic.

Throughout my upbringing, my parents ensured that I remained mindful of various social justice issues. One issue I remember quite distinctly is the plight of my aunt’s husband, who was a political prisoner in Syria for 20 years. My first exposure to the cause of the defenseless and oppressed was a personal family connection, and consistently throughout my childhood, my father reminded me to pray for his brother-in-law’s release and the release of countless other prisoners of conscious in Syria and around the world.

My dad’s brother-in-law was thankfully released from detention in 2002, around the same time another series of transformative events began to take place. After the tragic events of September 11, 2001, as America struggled to deal with terrorism and seemingly endless cycles of war around the world, the Muslim community in America and abroad began to face political and social backlash, and my childhood was tainted by events like the passage of the PATRIOT Act and the American invasion of Iraq. Topics such as increased government surveillance of Muslim communities and the implications of American involvement in the Middle East made for sobering but lively dinnertime discussion at home, which taught me to be conscious of the complexities inherent in constant pursuit of “security” by the powerful, which too often led to the suffering of the defenseless.

I know that in this, my personal experience and drive are not unique. Over the course of the past few years, I’ve talked to many budding attorneys whose self-stated goal in entering the law is impacting societal change or advocating on behalf of the defenseless. And I’m sure reciting this oath just now renewed in us all the sense of working toward a noble cause. But I want to take a few minutes to talk about how this oath translates into practice as we venture into our legal careers.

At the micro-level as individual attorneys, there is much we can do. For me personally, I have worked to fulfill this pledge for the last year or so by working at a civil rights nonprofit — the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Florida — where we assist individuals fleeing persecution in their country of origin as well as victims of growing Islamophobia in the state of Florida. While the opportunities in the nonprofit sector to serve the underrepresented are plenty, there is also a lot of room for this type of advocacy among private attorneys. Rule 4-6.1 of the Florida Rules of Professional Responsibility states that we have a responsibility to provide pro bono legal services to poor clients; it sets an aspirational annual goal of 20 hours of pro bono service or a $350 payment to a legal aid organization. We can all take this aspirational goal and make it mandatory upon ourselves — we can start by getting involved in our local pro bono committees and connecting with legal aid offices and nonprofit organizations. My experience so far has been that there are many more indigent clients in the state of Florida than people willing to help them at no cost.

And as we advocate for individual clients, we must also work toward the resolution of macro-level issues as well. We cannot hope to alleviate the suffering of marginalized communities without addressing the overarching problems that have contributed to their relative impotence. Even though it may be controversial or unpopular at times, let us take a definite stance on societal issues impacting the oppressed such as systemic racism, economic disparity, and what often amounts to the criminalization of homelessness and mental illness.

I mentioned earlier that my religious background is an influential factor in the reason I am a lawyer who firmly believes in advocating for justice for all, but especially for the downtrodden. In the Oath of Attorney, I see echoes of a teaching in my Islamic faith tradition that we ought to stand with both the oppressor and the oppressed. While it’s pretty obvious why we’re taught to support the oppressed, it may be less clear what it means to stand with the oppressor. We stand with the oppressor by preventing him from oppressing another person, by refusing to be silent when we witness oppression. As officers of the court, we can do this by addressing unethical practices we see from other attorneys, either by engaging in straightforward conversations with one another or reporting wrongful conduct to the Florida Bar, if the situation so requires. On the macro-level, we can prevent oppression by working toward larger causes to reduce political and social marginalization and exclusion — we should never be afraid to take a public stance on systemic practices we believe are harming a certain group of people. Large-scale oppression can only become obsolete if we challenge it collectively, and that is a shared responsibility we ought to take seriously. Let us pledge not only to stand up for the defenseless and oppressed, but also to hold each other accountable when it comes to acting on that promise.

I will leave you with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a true revolutionary whose struggle for civil rights we often honor but whose values and ideas our society has yet to truly commit to. Dr. King once said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

Now that we have officially joined the ranks of Florida’s legal community, let us go out and be exceptional attorneys, but we should remember that exceptional work is impossible unless we are good people too. Congratulations once again, and thank you.

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Diversity and Inclusion? Mission Accomplished!

When more than a dozen years ago WMU-Cooley Law School opened its campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the law school and local Grand Rapids Bar Association saw a chance to create new opportunities for African-American, Hispanic-Latino, Asian-American, and other minority lawyers. Grand Rapids is a remarkably diverse city and there was a need to build on its diversity and create greater inclusion. Today, our Grand Rapids campus can say, “Mission accomplished!”

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Working with the local bar, the law school’s Grand Rapids campus has recruited, educated, and graduated 84 African-American lawyers. Over 100 such lawyers, when counting graduates identifying as both African-American and at least one other ethnicity, have since graduated from the law school’s Grand Rapids campus. The accomplishment is all the more remarkable in that the law school does not have an affirmative-action admissions policy. Instead, the school’s approach is that new students who meet the school’s admissions requirements have the ability to get in ,work hard, graduate, and go to work in the law and related professions.

“Several of these graduates have felt like sons and daughters to me,” says campus dean and professor Nelson Miller, adding, “Or maybe I wish that they had been my own family, given their previous military service, business experience, and community advocacy, the skills that they brought and acquired, and their successes since graduation.”

Indeed, WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids African-American graduates have taken jobs in large and small law firms around the nation, as prosecutors and public defenders, as appellate research attorneys, and in charitable organizations and businesses.

The Grand Rapids campus and local bar continue to work together to open more doors at Grand Rapids firms for employing more African-American lawyers. The school, campus, and community are proud of the many outstanding African-American lawyers now working all over the region and nation, as summa cum laude, Law Review, and distinguished award-winning graduates.

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Military Feature Michael C.H. McDaniel: Relish Challenge and Opportunity to Serve

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. May’s monthly feature is WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Michael C.H. McDaniel. Professor Michael McDaniel was a Judge Advocate General and Brigadier General before he turned his legal career to teaching for WMU-Cooley’s Homeland & National Security program. 

Military rank and title: Retired Brigadier General

Career Description: I participated in ROTC as an undergrad, but as I knew wanted to go to law school, a military career was put on hold. Some years later, I had just started with the Michigan Office of Attorney General. Almost the first case assigned to me was Harris v. Missavage. A soldier in the Michigan National Guard, on state training duty, had a ruptured Achilles tendon, misdiagnosed by another Guardsman, a young doctor. Harris sued, claiming malpractice. Because both soldiers were on state duty, the Feres doctrine, which bars one U.S. servicemember from suing another, did not apply. After we lost at trial, I successfully argued that the Court of Appeals should adopt a similar reasoning, that is, that there is a full system of benefits to cover medical and other needs and that to permit such lawsuits would irreparably damage unit cohesion and morale. After the Court agreed [see 165 Mich App 96 (1987)], the Michigan National Guard asked me if I wanted to be a Judge Advocate General.

McDaniel

Why law school was a great decision for you: It was the best decision I could have made as the JAG Corps permitted me to further my legal education, both in the classroom and the courtroom. It broadened my network of attorneys, provided a release from the office environment, as well as unique travel opportunities, and led to my involvement in Homeland Security and to further promotion. Those opportunities included working security at the Atlanta Olympics, attending the Jungle Operations Training Course in Panama, serving as both the Commanding Officer and exercise leader for a NATO training exercise which was a prerequisite to the Baltic States and Bulgaria’s membership, and many others.

On September 11, 2001, the governor’s legal counsel called me and asked me to draft an Executive Order for the governor to deploy the Michigan National Guard at Michigan’s international border crossings at Port Huron, Sault Ste. Marie, and at the Ambassador Bridge, tunnel and Detroit Metro Airport. And with that, my interest in Homeland Security and the needed laws and constitutional restrictions, began, culminating in the development of the Master of Laws in Homeland and National Security degree here at WMU-Cooley. That assistance on 9/11 and the new interest in Homeland Security directly led to being appointed the first state Homeland Security Advisor in Michigan and to being appointed as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Planning, six years later.

Why law students with military backgrounds are successful: Law students with a military background tend to be older, to have diverse life experiences and to have gained organizational skills and an understanding of how large organizations work. Second, those with advanced training in many military operational skills, such as in military planning or intelligence, have already developed the analytical processes that law school teaches. Third, they already have lived a life of service; they know that service to others is their most important virtue. Undoubtedly, as attorneys they will be involved in public service professions or pro bono activities because duty to others has become deeply instilled within them. Most importantly, military members already have been trained to live by a code of conduct and to understand the reasons for that code, just as new lawyers must do.

Tell us about you: My daily goal is the same as my long-term goal, to live a life of public service. One of the greatest attributes of WMU-Cooley is its focus on service as well as education and scholarship. It has provided me the opportunity to serve the larger public in many ways, including my current project: the Flint mayor named me to lead the recovery efforts for the city of Flint. Drafting a recovery plan is challenging and complex, due to many economic, political, historic and engineering issues. But I relish the challenge and the opportunity to serve.

More Blogs featuring Professor Michael McDaniel:

Fight the ideology says Homeland Security law professor and ret. Brig. General Michael McDaniel

Veterans Court: A blessing to troubled treatment court graduate

Constitutional Law Professors Weigh in on Kim Davis Lawsuit

Day of Remembrance: Boy Scouts Honor Lives Lost in 9/11 Day Long Salute

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The Top 5 Pitfalls of Both Law Students and Lawyers

Law students in Tampa Bay learned some important tips and information from area attorneys during a panel discussion called, “A Guide to Avoiding Issues with The Board of Bar Examiners and The Florida Bar: The Top 5 Pitfalls of Both Law Students and Lawyers.” 

(Left to right) Jeffrey Martlew, WMU-Cooley associate dean; Jazmin Shorter, president of WMU-Cooley BLSA; WMU-Cooley Professor Renalia DuBose; Donald Smith, partner with Smith, Tozian, Daniel & Davis, P.A.; Keshara Cowans, Florida Bar Counsel; and Amy Bandow, assistant director of WMU-Cooley's Center for Ethics, Service, and Professionalism

(Left to right) Jeffrey Martlew, WMU-Cooley associate dean; Jazmin Shorter, president of WMU-Cooley BLSA; WMU-Cooley Professor Renalia DuBose; Donald Smith, partner with Smith, Tozian, Daniel & Davis, P.A.; Keshara Cowans, Florida Bar Counsel; and Amy Bandow, assistant director of WMU-Cooley’s Center for Ethics, Service, and Professionalism

It was a unique opportunity to talk with a prosecutor from The Florida Bar and an attorney who represents applicants seeking bar admission. Guest speakers were Keshara Cowans, bar counsel for the Florida Bar, and Donald A. Smith, partner of Smith, Tozian, Daniel and Davis. They are involved in a case as opposing counsels, but together presented advice on how to avoid issues with The Board of Bar Examiners and The Florida Bar, and on how to achieve success as an attorney.

Ms. Cowans’ top five wrong answers are:

  1. Trust Account- Don’t pay attention to it!
  2. Professionalism- Who needs it?
  3. Clients- If they can walk in the door, they qualify!
  4. Communication- Not my job!
  5. Social Media- Say whatever you want!

Mr. Smith’s  top five pitfalls for Florida Bar Applicants:

  1. Lack of Candor
  2. Academic and Student Misconduct/Discipline
  3. Unlawful Conduct
  4. Financial Irresponsibility
  5. Drug/Alcohol Dependency

Donald A. Smith, Jr. is a partner with the firm of Smith, Tozian, Daniel & Davis, P.A., in Tampa, Florida. He received his law degree from Stetson in 1978. He formerly worked as Assistant Staff Counsel with The Florida Bar and as an Assistant State Attorney. Since 1983, he has primarily represented attorneys in Bar grievance proceedings and law firm disputes; has represented judges in Judicial Qualifications Commission proceedings; has represented applicants for admission to the Bar; and has been qualified as an expert in matters involving legal ethics and fee disputes. Mr. Smith is rated AV Preeminent, and is a former chair of the Hillsborough County Family Law Ethics Committee and the Family Law Judicial Liaison Committee. In addition, he is a member of the Hillsborough County Bar Association and Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers, and is admitted to the Middle District Court of Florida, County Bar Association and Association of Professional Responsibility Lawyers. He has spoken on numerous occasions at legal and ethics seminars throughout the state, including various sections of the Hillsborough County Bar Association, Tampa Bay Trial Lawyers Association and Stetson University College of Law.

Keshara Cowans received both her undergraduate degree (B.S. Criminology 2004) and her law degree (J.D. 2007) from Florida State University.  She currently works as Bar Counsel for The Florida Bar in Orlando, Florida.  As bar counsel, she is responsible for the investigation of complaints against attorneys accused of violating the Rules Regulating the Florida Bar. She handles all phases of the disciplinary trial including filing appellate briefs with the Florida Supreme Court. Ms. Cowans currently serves on the board of directors for the Central Florida Association for Women Lawyers and the Young Lawyers Section of the Orange County Bar Association. She is a Justice Teaching volunteer at Carver Middle School, serves as a judge for the annual high school statewide Mock Trial, as well as We the People competitions.  In 2011, Ms. Cowans was recognized by the National Bar Association and Impact as one of the Nation’s Best Advocates: 40 Lawyers Under 40. In 2013, she was recognized by the Florida State University Alumni Association as one of the university’s “Thirty Under 30” for her significant contributions to her profession and community.

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Two best ways to increase your employment odds

With some organizations (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics) predicting a rosier outlook for law school graduates in 2016, and others asserting the market will continue to be competitive, it’s in the best interests of every law school student and graduate to make a highly positive impression from their very first contact with a potential employer.

So, what can you do to increase your odds of a good outcome?

Experts emphasize two things: 1) Pre-interview Research and 2) Interview Practice

PRE-INTERVIEW RESEARCH

It’s critically important to take some time to research and absorb everything you possibly can on your potential new company. Just like you never ask a witness in court a question you don’t already know the answer to, never ask questions in a job interview that you could have already researched.

According to the Career and Professional Development (CPD) office at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, “The bottom line is employers want to see that you know who they are AND you know what they do. It is important to know the organization’s mission, business profile, practice areas, and recent news. Be sure to review the organization’s website and conduct a Lexis Nexis and Westlaw search. Also, before your interview ask for the names of the individuals who will be interviewing you. Go the extra mile to research the interviewer’s professional background.”

In addition, counsels WMU-Cooley Professor Karen Fultz, “research the background of the CEO and the head of the department in which you plan to work, and try to find any articles about the company or persons that will help you connect with them. If you receive the call for the interview, the interview is set up to learn more about you personally and how you will fit in as a team member. Capitalize on that fact and shine!”

“Interweaving appropriate facts about the company into a response, explanation, or question distinguishes you and makes you memorable,” adds CPD Associate Dean Charles Toy.


INTERVIEW PRACTICE

Mock interviews will expose you to different interview styles: behavioral, situational, case, presentation, panel, selection, work sample, stress, screening, peer group, and video.

Some of those questions include the frequently encountered “greatest strength,” “greatest weakness” standards, as well as inquiries about GPA, and work experience. Obviously, if your GPA is underwhelming, you will emphasize your work experience in your resume, cover letter and interview responses. Employers today are looking for individuals who can work creatively and collaboratively and you need to develop your personal pitch in a way that is responsive to these attributes.

WMU-Cooley graduate Natayai Scott’s interview experiences revealed some notable consistencies among potential employers. “The question most asked is two-fold: 1) what do you know about the position, and 2) how does your skill set fit the position. Going into this last interview, I asked myself these questions and framed the answer the night before. Giving a well-articulated answer is what got me the job offer.”

“Not all questions are straight-forward,” states Lisa Fadler, WMU-Cooley CPD assistant dean. She can conceive of an employer asking interviewees questions like, “What bumper sticker would you want on your car and why?” or “What super power would you want and why?” or “If I gave you $50,000 to start a business, what would it be?” Dean Fadler recommends answering such questions in a way that relates it to and brings value to the position the interviewee is seeking.

The Career Services Office notes that it is important to review and know yourself and your résumé. The order of information presented on your resume is essential to landing an interview. Every resume and cover letter must be tailored to the position for which you are applying. Each submission will be crafted to emphasize the particular needs of the prospective employer and your qualifications for that position. “It is important for you to be comfortable discussing everything on your résumé. It is all fair game. Be able to discuss why you did something and what you obtained from the experience. If you cannot answer questions about yourself, it is telling. More importantly, develop themes and anecdotes to illustrate traits you want to express to the interviewers. For example, instead of telling an employer that you are a hard worker, think about a time when you worked hard to make something happen.”

It’s important to present a professional image. Remember that you are interviewing to be a representative of the employer. The interviewer is looking at your dress presentation and how you put yourself together. Your outward appearance speaks to your judgment and understanding of your role within the workplace. Also, your professional presence includes your speech patterns. The way that you talk with peers is different than the way you will talk to the employer. Lastly, treat everyone that you encounter with respect and turn off your electronics.

Interview Day

  1. Arrive early, but not too early – Everyone knows that being late is bad, but so is arriving too early. Waiting too long for an interview can be awkward or create an imposition for the interviewer. Wait in your car until 10 minutes before the interview.
  2. Stay calm and breathe – Staying calm before and during an interview allows you to actively listen and better respond to questions. Focusing on your breathing during the time before the interview will help you calm your nerves.
  3. Key in on one or two things you want them to remember about you – Briefly recall in your mind a few of your skills or accomplishments that are important to the job. Focusing in on just the most important items will help make you memorable during the interview.
  4. Put away your phone – Don’t fall into the trap of checking your voicemail, Facebook, or email before the interview. Something you read in your newsfeed or inbox or listen to could distract you from the task at hand.
  5. Stay positive – It seems simple, but thinking happy thoughts can put a smile on your face and put you in the right state of mind before the interview.

Pitfalls to avoid

  1. Do not make negative comments about others including previous employers, law school professors/administration, and peers. Instead, focus on the positive. This is especially important if you have identified a problem or issue that you feel particularly qualified to address as a future employee. You want to be perceived as the solution to their problems, not a critic of past failures.
  2. Do not get too comfortable. While it is obviously a good practice to be cordial to a future employer (and all the staff you encounter at the firm from the very moment you arrive) it is vitally important to remember that the interviewer is not your friend. Never let your guard down and do not talk to the interviewer like a peer. Instead, show that you understand and respect business culture. You are a professional now, so you should remember to always act like one.
  3. And, of course, do not lie. As a member of the legal profession, you are expected to maintain high integrity. This professional standard also translates into the interview setting. Employers are sensitive to anything they will interpret as a lie. Inaccuracies or errors on your résumé, denying or exaggerating the truth, and misleading statements are considered lies. Even if these acts are unintentional. Instead, put a positive spin on the truth. You are not expected to air dirty laundry or give long, detailed explanations, but everything must be true and pass a background check.

From summer jobs, to internships, to post-graduation employment, what interview preparation techniques work for you?

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