Monthly Archives: March 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Attorney General Jeff Sessions at Risk of Professional Discipline?

Blog author and WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Victoria Vuletich teaches Professional Responsibility and Evidence at the Grand Rapids campus of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. Before joining the WMU Faculty, she served as former staff ethics counsel of the State Bar of Michigan. Professor Vuletich was a guest lecturer at Hertford College, Oxford University, England, and will be returning to teach at Oxford in the summer of 2017.

As the political story of Attorney General Sessions’ recusal was unfolding last week, ethics attorneys around the country were busy discussing another potential twist to the situation: the possibility that Attorney General Sessions may be subject to professional discipline under the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct. The possibility was first raised in a recent Rolling Stone article that quoted Fordham Law Professor Russell Pearce.1

Alabama Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4 states, in part:
It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to:
(c) Engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation.

The standard in 8.4(c) is a lower standard than the standard required to prove perjury. Several cases have suggested that: “dishonesty” includes “conduct evincing a lack of honesty, probity or integrity in principle; a lack of fairness and straightforwardness,” but need not involve conduct legally characterized as fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. In re Scanio, 919 A.2d 1137 (D.C. 2007).

Additionally, the comments to Alabama Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4 state, in part:

Lawyers holding public office assume legal responsibilities going beyond those of other citizens. A lawyer’s abuse of public office can suggest an inability to fulfill the professional role of attorney.

In short, attorneys who hold public office are held to a higher standard than other lawyers.

Here are the facts of Attorney General Sessions’ situation, as reported in a March 7, 2017 USA Today story:2:

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn . . . asked Sessions what he would do if he became aware that “anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign.”. . .

“I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions responded at the time. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have have — did not have communications with the Russians.” . . .

“I did not mention communications I had had with the Russian ambassador over the years because the question did not ask about them,” Sessions said in a letter to the committee, explaining the disputed testimony.

“I answered the question, which asked about a ‘continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump’s surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government,’ honestly,” Sessions maintained.

Attorney General Sessions admits that he met with the Russian Ambassador Kislyak both in July at the Republican National Convention and in September in his Senate office, both meetings occurring while the presidential campaign was in full steam.

What is problematic for Attorney General Sessions is that:

1) by his own admission, he a “Trump surrogate,” – someone connected with the Trump campaign; and

2) the question did not inquire about a “continuing exchange of information during the campaign” but rather whether anyone affiliated with the campaign “communicated” with the Russian government during the course of the campaign.

At the moment he answered the question, he knew he had met with the Russian ambassador during the campaign. Whether it was about the subject matter of the campaign is irrelevant legally, as the question was asking, in essence, whether any communications had occurred, regardless of the content of the communications.

If a request for investigation is filed with the Alabama State Bar’s Office of General Counsel, the Office of the General Counsel is required by law to investigate and make a determination as to whether Attorney General Session’s response to the question and his subsequent reactions to the allegations of misrepresentation constitute a violation of Rule 8.4(c). Possible outcomes range from dismissal of the complaint outright if the Alabama State Bar believes 8.4(c) was not violated to suspension of Attorney General Sessions’ law license if it believes 8.4(c) was indeed violated. Other possible measures include a private or public reprimand.

If a discipline matter is pursued, Attorney General Sessions will have the benefit, like all other citizens, of being presumed innocent until proven guilty. But that will not halt the lingering political/policy question of what it means to have the nation’s top lawyer being subject to a professional discipline proceeding while in office.

1Rolling Stone, March 2, 2017, Why Jeff Sessions Must Resign as Attorney General

2USA Today, March 6, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions: Senate testimony was ‘correct’

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Success as a New Solo – Five Essentials!

Professor Gary Bauer

WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Gary Bauer, a recent ABA Solo and Small Firm Trainer award winner, teaches Estate Planning to third-year law students and a directed study class he created called Solo By Design.

His blog, sololawyerbydesign.com, provides law students, recent solo practitioners, and seasoned professionals who wish to go solo, with information and resources to be successful in the legal business. This blog was first published on Feb. 16, 2017 at sololawyerbydesign.com.

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. – Ralph Waldo Emerson

You just passed the Bar and now you have a license to practice law. If you want long term success, here are what I believe are the top five essential ingredients for a successful practice.

First, Find Where Your Passion and Excitement Intersect with the Economic Realities You Will Face.

It is not enough alone to want to change the world by defending the oppressed. You need to connect that passion with a way to manage student debt and put food on the table. If you can live off what you produce in your practice – fine. But, if your passion includes supporting a family and ultimately planning for your retirement, passion and excitement alone are not enough. It is a good start, but the graveyard of exhausted and disheartened former lawyers is full of those who failed to weigh and balance their passion with the other demands and realities of their lives. The best way to guarantee professional success is to do what you enjoy doing the most that allows you to make a good living.

Second, Limit Your Scope of Practice to Maximize Your Efficiency and Competence.

Too many new lawyers take whatever comes through their door. Niche practice is not just trendy. It is commonplace these days because the competitive nature of legal practice no longer mitigates in favor of generalized legal practice. It is nearly impossible to stay abreast of all the developments in the law in such broad areas of practice as family law, bankruptcy, estate planning, debt collection and landlord-tenant law. Yet you will find attorneys who advertise for all of these areas of practice and more. Thirty years ago you could open a practice and compete offering services in all of those areas. But those times are gone. Now, you compete on the internet with services that appear to have all the benefits of compilation and advice without the high cost of seeking professional services from a lawyer. In addition, you are competing more and more with other specialists. If you were seeking a divorce and given the choice between someone who advertises practice expertise in six or eight areas of law including family law and someone who advertises services only for males seeking divorce; as a male seeking a divorce who would you contact?

When marketing your firm as a general practitioner, who is your potential audience? It is true, this expands your potential area of influence. But, omit those who would choose a specialist when given the chance. Also, when you find you have a medical condition and your health is at stake, wouldn’t you seek the opinion of a specialist? If the opinion you got was from a general practitioner, how much would you be willing to pay compared to a specialist? The same is true of a general practice lawyer. The expectation is that, since you don’t specialize your fees should be less. Counting yourself among all the other general practice lawyers also means that, unless you can distinguish yourself from your competition, you will not be able to charge any more than the competitors down the street. And as a general practice lawyer, you will not be able to distinguish yourself in every area of practice that you offer your clients.

When advertising, as someone who specializes, you can tailor your message to address the pain points of your clients in unique and targeted ways. You can find publications or websites that draw the specific type of person you wish to reach with a message tailored to meet those individuals needs. When you reach them with your tailored message, they will be drawn to you for your unique skills and not by price alone. As a result, you are no longer competing with every other attorney in your area on price alone.

Third, Find the Identity and Brand That Fits You.

Too many attorneys have no brand at all or a brand that does not suit their personality or style of practice. Ask any court clerk about any attorney and they will tell you how their characteristics play out in reality. If you want to know your brand, first be yourself and not in the style of what you perceive to be the norm for a lawyer. Too many new grads assume the persona of how they believe someone with a law degree should interact with others. And too often, it means that they are aggressive, impolite and demanding. They do this because their law school professors projected that persona in law school and demonstrated a demanding and aggressive style while using the Socratic method of teaching.

Step back and evaluate yourself before law school. Find the real you. When you do, display that thoughtful, caring persona out as you engage clients, opponents, judges and, yes, court clerks. You know how confused and worried you were when you first started law school? Now that you are out in the field practicing law, it is OK to tell others that you don’t know all the answers. In fact, you know very few of the answers when you first start out. You will continue to learn each day that you practice. Every day will present new challenges with legal concepts or applications of the law that you had never considered before.

Finding your brand is like trying on different suits until you find one that feels right to you – but most important, feels right to your clients. How do you know if you have found it? If you are true to yourself and candid about your insecurities (at the appropriate times), the real you will come out. Ask the court clerk what they find most appealing about your personality? How would they describe you to a potential client? That is your brand – become aware of it and sell it.

Fourth, Produce High Quality Legal Work and Bill Accordingly.

If you feel you can just get by practicing law on the margins – you are right! We see it every day in the courts or when opposing counsel calls us clearly unaware of how the law works in their case. They find the judges telling them what to do in court or pointing out the legal or procedural mistakes they made in pursuit of their client’s objectives. Often their clients stand by their sides unaware of the very real damage that their lawyer did by missing deadlines or misunderstanding the law. The level of professionalism in the courts is quite diverse and often discouraging to someone like myself who trains law students how to practice law. Yet, many of those attorneys who are producing unsatisfactory legal work still find themselves fully booked with clients in spite of their inadequacies. That is not to say that they are highly successful. Many times, these are the lawyers who are struggling financially and end up being sanctioned by the state bar or sued for malpractice.

If you apply yourself, obtain good mentorship, communicate often and competently with your clients, and pay attention to business management principles, you will set yourself apart from those who practice on the margins. Your client base will continue to increase every year and you will not have to attract clients by pricing yourself below the competition. Survival will not be your goal and minimal competence will not be your standard if you work hard to do well. There are no short cuts.

Fifth, Keep Your Expenses Low, but Don’t Be Afraid to Spend Money to make Money.

Opening a law office can be very stressful, but don’t make the mistake of substituting STUFF for why the client comes to see you. Once in your office and your counseling session begins, all that stuff around you disappears. The focus is on you, not your stuff. That means that if you can get by with a laptop computer that you used in law school to do your work initially, then don’t buy a new one. If you can find someone to give you a broom closet for your office at low cost when you start out, then make the best of it.  Case management software isn’t going to help you make money when you first start out, but down the road as your client base expands and tracking a lot of open files in various states of development may require that you spend the money to access that resource to be able to use your time more efficiently billing for legal work and less on administrative work – which leads to hiring someone to help you. Resist at all costs hiring a full time employee until you absolutely need one. When you find you are spending hours doing what a high school student can do instead of billable work for your clients – it may be time to consider hiring someone and spending the money to make more money.

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New Zealand Land, Culture & People True Adventure

WMU-Cooley law students have jumped into their study abroad experience with both feet, warmly embracing this special land. Nothing short of an adventure, New Zealand’s changeable landscapes and experiences have been life changing. The challenging international courses have been enlightening and the world down under breathtaking with the richness of its oceans, mountains, ferns, and its multi-cultural, open and friendly citizenry.

Students were based in Hamilton, New Zealand, on the campus of the University of Waikato for their classroom experience, but their educational experience traveled far and wide.

Students compared Chinese & New Zealand law and New Zealand International Trade. They learned about the United Nations and Indigenous Rights. By the end of the term, they were making presentations in the state-of-the-art courtroom in the new law building. But that was just the start of their adventure in learning.

Travels included trips to the world-famous Raglan beach, Mount Manganui, touring the Marlborough wine region, absailing into Waitomo Caves, bungy jumping in Queenstown. It took their breath away!

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Students learned about Maori culture and legal systems. They were invited onto the Kirrikirriroa Marae, where they were formally welcomed and allowed to participate in part of an alternative sentencing workshop with criminal offenders. They visited the Maori Land Court, where they shared Hongi and tea with Court staff and Judge Stephanie Milroy.

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Students visited law firm McCaw Lewis, where they shared a meal with attorneys. They even learned to play cricket. During their last week, Dean Wayne Rumbles hosted a BBQ for the WMU-Cooley students at his home, where he cooked for the students and shared laughter and fellowship.

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Aeoteara/New Zealand will stay in the hearts of WMU-Cooley students and faculty as they move on to Melbourne for more adventure!

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