Author Archives: Terry Carella

Rafael Diaz combines his love for the criminal justice system and the law

Rafael Diaz, a lieutenant with the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety and a 2010 WMU-Cooley Law School graduate, knew from an early age that he wanted to go to law school. Every decision, from high school through college, was made to position himself for a career in the law.

But, as he was coming to the end of his time in college, he looked at law school again. Married, and with a young daughter, Diaz decided it was not the right time to make a commitment to law school.

“Life kind of creeps up on you,” he remembered. “I had to look at other things. I was volunteering for the Holland Police Department as a reserve police officer and wondered about what to do for work. I reasoned that, since I planned to be a prosecutor in the criminal justice system, what better way to learn about its inner workings than from that vantage point. Well, lo and behold, I really enjoyed it! I loved the police-citizen interactions and I loved the law at that level. So I thought to myself, well, I love law; I love law enforcement; I think I would like to be a police officer. So that’s exactly what I did.”

After five years at the Holland Police Department, Diaz joined Kalamazoo Public Safety in 2005, giving himself more time for family and the opportunity to dream about law school again.

Diaz learned that WMU-Cooley’s many scheduling options could make pursuing his dream possible. In 2007, he started law school at WMU-Cooley’s Lansing campus taking classes during the day, knowing that if his work schedule changed, he could continue by taking advantage of other scheduling options the law school offered.

WMU-Cooley graduate Rafael Diaz

“For a person who was on the streets doing night patrol, the fact that WMU-Cooley offered classes in the morning, afternoon, evening, and even on weekends, was fantastic,” said Diaz. “So many doors opened for me. I don’t really know of another way I could have really done it, but for WMU-Cooley’s scheduling options. As you can imagine, it was hard working nights as a patrol officer and balancing everything else, but the flexibility I was afforded in Public Safety and the opportunity to teach through a joint relationship between Public Safety and a local educational association, gave me the lift I needed to start law school.”

He continued to work with area high school students, teaching them what it might be like to be a police officer. He enjoyed working with the students, plus he found that this work schedule allowed him to attend evening classes and more time to study.

“The department really stood by me while I was in law school,” said Diaz. “The flexibility I received from work and law school, along with my family’s support and understanding, is how I got to where I am today.”WMU-Cooley graduate Rafael Diaz

Law school was tough, but all Diaz’ memories are positive. “My experience at WMU-Cooley was one of the best times of my life,” Diaz recalled. “Not only was I busy at work, I was busy in law school. I loved being challenged. I also met a lot of great people. I had a tremendous amount of interaction with people and have stayed in contact with many over the years and built lasting friendships.

“It might not have been the traditional approach,” smiled Diaz, “but it worked for me, and everything seemed to fall into place.”

For Diaz, the professors at WMU-Cooley stood out as exceptional teachers. They also made themselves available to help students.

“I have really grown an appreciation for their work and their care of the students,” said Diaz. “Coupled with the friendships and the relationships that I developed, law school was one of the best times ever. Even now I find time to stop by the law school just to say hello. I really loved my time at WMU-Cooley.”

How has a law degree helped in a career in law enforcement?

Diaz explained that his training and legal education have made him a better person, both personally and professionally.

“The law degree is what has broadened my eyes, my perspective, and my approach to so many different issues,” he stated. “I have gone up the ranks, and am now a lieutenant and I got there in a relatively short period of time. I believe it is because the work that I have done and the work that I can do is appreciated. By setting myself apart from other candidates, I have been allowed to progress quickly. It really is a wonderful intersection of my love of law enforcement and my love of law, and the practice of it as an attorney.

“WMU-Cooley set me up for success. They taught me how to look at a problem, any problem really, then apply specific set of skills to analyze the problem and come up with solutions, looking at many sides of an issue. Sometimes in law enforcement we get stuck in only seeing it from one side. That can lead to a lot of frustration when we only want certain outcomes.

“What law school has taught me to do is to examine things from all sides in different ways because people have different points of view. That’s very, very helpful. It gives you a greater understanding and compassion for different views. We may agree to disagree at the end, and that’s OK, but in examining it from all different angles we are able to really see those points and then mesh it in with what the law says about how we have to behave ourselves in society. Really, it is an academic exercise in understanding different folks. For me, that has been huge.”

Family Makes Perfect

Diaz knows that he owes much to the unconditional support and love of his family.

“I can go back to when I was registering for WMU-Cooley Law School,” recalled Diaz. “At the time, I was working as a patrol officer, assigned a night shift. I sat down with my wife and we talked about it. We knew that it was going to be a life-changing, life-altering event for several years. It basically came down to this, my wife said, ‘If you’re willing to do it and put the work in, I am willing to do everything else, and we will get it done.’ I knew right then that I had the support of my wife.”

But Diaz also had two children to factor into the equation.

“I asked my daughter Alana, who is now 20 and a junior at Western Michigan University, and my son, who is going to be 14, ‘How do you think or feel about me taking this on?’  I said, ‘I am going to need a lot of time to study.’ They both looked at me and said, ‘Dad, if that’s what you want to do, let’s do it!’ ”

Even with the full support of his family, Diaz knew there would times where his family would suffer.

“What I tried to do was balance life as much as I could,” suggested Diaz. “Anything that I had outside of school, work, and family was gone, and I still haven’t picked up the game of golf since, but that’s OK. I want dinner time with my family. I encourage anybody who is looking at law school to carve out time for your family, regardless of how busy you are at work or school. In my mind, if it doesn’t work with family, then it’s all wasted.

“During family time, you put the books to the side, sit down, eat dinner, or watch a show, then when they go to bed, get back at it. I tell you what, I got a lot of strength from my family. Even during those years, I coached my daughter in softball and soccer and my son in baseball and soccer, because I love coaching. You can really tackle anything when you have that family support.

“I was truly blessed because my wife, my daughter, my son have always stood behind me and given me pushes, like, ‘Hey dad shouldn’t you be studying? Why don’t you get after it?’ I am thankful every day for the tremendous support of my family, and at some level I believe it was good for them, modeling good study habits, punctuality, and dedication.

“So, it is a two-way street, and we have both benefited tremendously.”

A Day in the Life of Rafael Diaz

With Public Safety, Diaz believes he has one of the most exciting and rewarding careers in the world.

“In 2008, I had a great opportunity to take a class in crisis intervention and learn how to help mentally ill subjects in crisis,” said Diaz. “The concept was that you can de-escalate a situation and seek positive outcomes by having relationships in the community. We now have a crisis intervention team here in Kalamazoo where we link all the necessary resources. We regularly train large classes, 40 officers at a time, and have built a crisis intervention team trained in mental health issues, coupled with de-escalation training, which reduces the probability for violence.”

The efforts have, over the years, improved the treatment and care of the individuals in crisis.

“Those are really the hallmarks of a successful program,” stated Diaz. “We have even been taking our training methods across the state, including a jail diversion program. The overarching principle is, ‘What is the right thing to do?’ We can work on all the other things that go along with that, so long as we have an eye towards getting a good outcome. This model of policing is not only catching fire statewide, but nationally. We are touching lives and that’s really exciting work.”

Diaz may have taken the road less traveled to get him to where he is today, but he has succeeded at every turn, proving to one and all that there is more than one pathway to success.

This story is also published in the Summer 2017 Benchmark. CLICK HERE to see the story and to read about other interesting WMU-Cooley Law School graduates. 

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Arthrex Sr. Vice President John W. Schmieding: Our Mission Drives Everything We Do

Naples, Florida is well-known as a great resort destination, with miles of white sandy beaches, calm waters, fishing, high-end shopping, golf courses, and even dolphin-watching. What’s less well-known is that Naples is a premier global research and training destination for orthopedic surgeons. John W. Schmieding (Moore Class, 1993) is the senior vice president and general counsel for Arthrex, Inc., a world leader in orthopedic surgical device design, research, manufacturing and medical education. Its mission is helping surgeons treat their patients better.

Since 1981, when Arthrex was founded by Schmieding’s brother, Reinhold, Arthrex has experienced tremendous growth and demand for its products. Its global headquarters in Naples is nothing short of impressive. The vibrant atmosphere of rapid product innovation, medical research and surgeon collaboration is noticeable on its sprawling campus. Surgeons come from around the world to learn about new products and techniques through hands-on surgical skills training programs at this premier medical education facility.

For the past 15 years, with his educational experiences and leadership acumen, Schmieding has been a steward of the legal framework which has facilitated Arthrex’s incredible growth and economic success in the Naples community and around the world.

Did you always know you wanted to be a lawyer?

I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a lawyer. My earliest memory, and one of my favorite stories, is when I was a young boy sitting in the backseat of our car looking out the window and a bus passed. It wasn’t the bus so much, but something else. I remember turning to my mother and cleverly saying, “Mom, the school bus probably had wooden seats back in your day!” She quickly smiled at me and told me, “Absolutely, John. That’s very deductive of you. You should be a lawyer when you grow up!”

That was the moment I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, not because of the law but because of the analysis. Even today I encourage my own children to be inquisitive about history and to think about how things are developed and where things belong. Inquisitiveness is an invaluable quality.

How was your time at Western Michigan University? What was your undergrad focus?

I was focused at Western to find a degree that would give me a leg up in law school. I entered WMU’s Criminal Justice program, in addition to a Courts minor – which resembled prelaw courses. I finished the requirements within two years and my advisor told me I should pursue another major. I always loved writing, so I chose English and Creative Writing. Learning how to creatively think and express those thoughts in writing has helped me tremendously throughout my career. It is one of the skills that I find lawyers are often lacking – the ability to cogently write creatively to convince. The law has many opportunities for creative insight.

By my junior year, I was ready to apply to law school. It happened that my uncle knew Cooley Law School founder, Justice (Thomas) Brennan. He worked with him and went to University of Detroit Law School with him. He advocated for me to go to Cooley. I loved the idea of a practical legal education. My creative mindset loved the idea. I wasn’t looking for theoretical insight or theoretical application of the law. I wanted to practice law. I wanted to be of service to people. My father always inspired me to be of service. Growing up, I watched him help others and I wanted to do the same. I gravitated to Cooley and enjoyed it from the first moment I got there. 

Tell us about your WMU-Cooley experience.

Once I began law school at Cooley, I could tell it was going to be a drastic change from my undergraduate program. The intensity of real world operations and learning about how the world works was immediate. There are many moments that stick out in my mind. My first memory was standing in front of the class with a microphone, being grilled on our previous night’s assignments. You learned quickly to be prepared for class and never, ever come unprepared. That lesson has helped me throughout my career.

Law school was a tremendous challenge. I admit I was never an A+ student. That didn’t stop me though from embracing classes I wasn’t comfortable with or actually feared – like Tax Law. I remember making the conscious decision to dive into classes that challenged me. Surprisingly, I did well in those classes and even got an A in my Tax classes. It all gave me great confidence.

Receiving the blue book award for Constitutional Law II was the highlight of my law school career. Up to that point, I had never been very close to the top of the class, but I applied myself diligently to that class and wrote a wonderful blue book. I was honored to receive that award and it hangs in my office to this day.

One experience during law school is forever etched on my mind. I was hurrying to take an exam. I was walking too fast down those large marble stairs in the Temple Building. Justice Brennan was walking up just as I was hurrying down. I literally fell down the stairs in front of Justice Brennan! I’ll never forget that. I was so embarrassed. Yet, Judge Brennan helped me up and was very gracious. I’m sure he remembered what it was like to be a student taking exams. I appreciated him and respected him highly. Oddly, this was one of my fondest memories of my time at Cooley.

How did WMU-Cooley prepare you for a legal career?

My law school experience enriched me with confidence and the practical skills necessary in the professional world. The skills I gained in my research and writing classes were immediately applicable in my work after graduation. I worked for a small accounting firm in downtown Detroit before I started my legal career. I did a lot of research regarding bond fund accounting and arbitrage and really enjoyed it. I applied things I learned in law school directly to that job.

Then I hung out my own shingle, and then worked for a small firm, then a large firm, and now I am in-house at a large multinational corporation.

When I first practiced for myself, I was doing minor litigation matters. Yet within weeks, I had my first small district court trial. The opposing counsel walked into the courtroom and I handed him his trial book, tabulated and organized, just as I had learned in law school. He looked at me dismayed and said, “You are way too organized.” I ended up winning that matter, which was pretty gratifying. It was a thrill to actually apply all I had learned so quickly, and I didn’t even have a mentor at the time. I knew I would succeed as an attorney.

In early practice, I did a lot of civil procedure cases, and leaned on all I learned during Civ Pro. I represented a client who had a real estate matter go south. They hired me to try to iron out the deal. It ended up in litigation where we had to file suit against the sellers of the property. The sellers hired a very famous, well-respected, University of Detroit Civil Procedure professor. Here I am, out of law school only a couple years, and I am going up against someone known to be an expert in this area of law. Well, I ended up winning. The claims were based on a failure-to-disclose matter where the seller failed to inform the purchasers of some water damage to the residence. We ended up going through motion practice, and I survived all the complex procedural attacks seeking dismissal on procedural grounds from this professor. I won every motion, and before trial, the judge tacitly recommended both counsels to settle. The sellers ended up paying us for the undisclosed damage. What a great challenge and confidence builder!

Tell us about your path to Arthrex?

As my career progressed, I started working for larger firms, including a regional firm based out of Pittsburgh called Doepken, Keevican and Weiss. We did everything from commercial litigation to mergers and acquisitions. I was exposed to a wide variety of topics, but Cooley prepared me for that, too. By now I had a wealth of experience and could apply the depth and breadth of my experience anywhere, including as general counsel for Arthrex.

Since the 1990’s Arthrex was growing at a tremendous pace and the foundational legal frameworks needed to be established. Fifteen years ago, my brother asked me to join the team as his legal counsel. We had nearly 100 employees at the time. We now have over 4,800 worldwide, 2,800 in Southwest Florida. When I joined, it was a legal blank slate. It was an honor to have the opportunity to help foster and prepare this company for growth and to help with the great medical vision my brother created. We are a very unique organization. We make medical devices for orthopedics and are the largest sports medicine manufacturer of medical devices in the world. We are committed to doing things in a way that public companies simply don’t. We are on a medical mission, not a shareholder value mission, in everything we do.

It was a rewarding challenge to build ethical and legal frameworks responsive to the needs of our mission. I had to apply an entire range of legal thought and experience to make sure our business foundation was legally sound. I worked to assist in patent prosecution, handle product liability matters, oversee insurance issues, advise on FDA regulations, advise on compliance regulations, and handle all corporate governance, contracts and a variety of other things. I now have 10 attorneys who work for me globally.

The open canvas of the position has been a continual painting. Every day I assist in the growth of our worldwide expansion. What a tremendous experience and privilege it has been! I get to work with some of the best lawyers in the world, and it’s very humbling. What’s important for any attorney is to be open to learning new methods and creative ways of doing things, no matter how long we have practiced. I am excited to see what the future holds.

What is it about your career that makes it the perfect fit for you?

I believe my practice reflects my personality. I have had a wide variety of experiences and have never allowed myself to be type-cast into one role. I love that I am able to sit with a design team of engineers and help develop solutions to medical problems. I am actually an inventor on several patents. The diversity in my work allows me to explore new areas and challenge myself and others. A lawyer’s mind is essential in any problem solving group. Never underestimate your ability to enter a business discussion, a mechanical discussion, a failure or risk mode discussion, because it informs the conversation in a different way due to our legal training and experience. We are able to solve problems, critically look at things and apply knowledge in ways others cannot.

My personal life is also varied. While I spend most of my time with my four beautiful children and my wife, I am also involved with Leadership Florida where I am in “Class 35.” It is a wonderful program where we learn about issues the state is facing in order to help serve our local community better. I also sit on the board of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, and am active in leveraging Arthrex’s needs for the betterment of our community. My current focus is on workforce training and housing.

My family is important to me and I spend a lot of time with my son in the outdoors and enjoying Florida’s natural beauty with my daughters. We also spend time in northern Michigan enjoying the beauty of the Great Lakes. Both states have so much to offer. I am also an avid reader and love intellectual pursuits.

Do you have advice for others?

Let me tell you a story about how I applied my education. I was at a charity event many years ago when I was just beginning my practice. There was a well-known attorney at the table who had been very successful in the Detroit area and I wondered about his story, so I asked, “I am just starting out, any words of advice for me?”

His advice for me was to find a corporation and obtain an equity interest in the company.

I sat back and thought that is not what I want to do. My goals have nothing to do with finance. My belief is that your passion should drive your pursuits, and my passion was our profession; serving as a pillar of democracy.

This is why the Arthrex mission is such a great fit. Focusing on passion drives innovation and creativity, not on a financial outcome of the matter. It turned out to be a wonderful business model for Arthrex, and we are extremely successful because we are focused on our goal of helping surgeons treat their patients better. But the success came after the mission. In that commitment, unlike many of our competitors, we are committed to building and manufacturing our products in the United States. Ninety five percent of our products are made here in the United States – 70 percent of those are made right here in Southwest Florida.

This is a purposeful commitment. Our mission drives everything we do.

Arthrex also continues to reinvest in expansion. We just built another 200,000-square-foot manufacturing facility here in Southwest Florida and we are building a 300,000-square-foot facility on the main campus in Naples, which will employ another 1,000 people over the next five years. We are building for growth, and we are committed to keeping that manufacturing here in the United States.

Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates our business model and success. Some competitors have lost in the market to our innovation and creativity, and rather than working to better their business they have attempted to challenge us in court.

Patent law was not something I was very involved with in my private practice. I was only slightly involved in certain patent reviews and due diligence on patents. Yet when I arrived here, I was immediately aware of how industries in our field utilized patents to gain an advantage – an advantage not intended by the system.

Having the ability to overcome difficult situations is a necessary life skill. It is something I first learned in law school during Professor Roger Needham’s Civil Procedure class. There was no question in anyone’s mind that he was an extremely intelligent man, but he was extremely demanding and his classroom demeanor was nothing short of scary. It was a challenge to live up to his expectations. While I found it frightful, it was such a wonderful experience.

After a very tough term in Civ Pro, where half the students failed, I ended up with the second highest grade in his class – an accomplishment I never expected. Ultimately, what Professor Needham did for me, and for all of us, is teach us a world lesson – how to deal with difficult people. It was a wake-up call for many students. That classroom lesson has been practically applied throughout my career.

If you are looking for one last piece of advice, I suggest you strive to understand how to communicate and collaborate with others, and use your passion to understand your client’s mission and join them as a partner, not as simply a service provider. If you do, you will find great success in your career, and in life.

This story is also published in the Summer 2017 Benchmark. CLICK HERE to see the story and to read about other interesting WMU-Cooley Law School graduates. 

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Ross Berlin: Passion, Core Values and Principles Set the Standard

Ross Berlin, WMU-Cooley (Kavanagh Class, 1981), is the cover feature story in the Summer 2017 issue of Benchmark Alumni Magazine. Berlin was a gifted athlete, playing football, basketball, and baseball in college. After obtaining his juris doctor from WMU-Cooley Law School, he began a remarkable career encompassing wide-ranging experiences, beginning as an associate at a Los Angeles sports and entertainment law firm, advancing to general counsel of a public works/environmental systems enterprise; then to Senior Vice President of Venues, 1994 World Cup USA; followed by work as a consultant for the 1997 Ryder Cup in Valderrama, Spain.

He then became PGA TOUR Vice President for Sales and Marketing for the World Golf Championships and then a William Morris sports agent for LPGA phenom Michelle Wie. Ultimately he returned to the PGA TOUR as Senior Vice President, Player Relations.

CLICK HERE to read Ross Berlin’s cover feature story in its entirety. It published in the Summer 2017 Benchmark alumni magazine, along with other interesting WMU-Cooley Law School graduate stories.

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WMU-Cooley Couple Brandon Moultrie and Liesl Griffin Talk Love in Law School and Beyond

Brandon Moultrie and Liesl Griffin are two of our latest WMU-Cooley Law School lovebirds who met during law school and decided to tie the knot! They plan to marry in Clearwater Beach, Florida, in November 2017. Enjoy their WMU-Cooley couple story below.

DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO GO TO LAW SCHOOL?

Brandon: I was part of a college basketball program and getting my master’s degree at Cleveland State University when I decided it was time to start looking into law school. I knew that law school was what I need to do because I really wanted to be in a profession that not only helped people but could make a positive impact on people’s lives. I initially thought that path was coaching basketball — either coaching young kids, high school kids, college kids or even professional athletes. But after going down that road, I realized other careers are more suited to help others.  That profession is a career in the law. I took the LSAT and started looking into law schools.

Griffin: I have an entirely different story! I started out NOT wanting to go to law school. But I guess I really never knew what I wanted to do! I dabbled in a few jobs here and there after undergrad, then I quit a job working for a mortgage company to move to an opportunity in Houston, Texas. That didn’t work out for me, so I then returned to Los Angeles. It was 2008, and at that time the economy had tanked. It seemed like everybody lost their job. The only job I could find was a job at a worker’s compensation law firm. There were a lot of claims being filed during that period. During my time at the firm I kept hearing stories about the economy and jobs. They talked about the medical field, teaching jobs, and government jobs, despite thinking they were safe, they really weren’t. They were losing their jobs. The only jobs that were hiring were law firms. I started reading cases and getting involved at the firm. I found out fairly quickly that it was all very interesting. And the partners encouraged me to go to law school, especially after they heard I went to USC for undergrad. They were very persistent. I finally just took the LSAT. That’s pretty much my start to law school.

HOW DID YOU TWO MEET?

Griffin: We actually met at a party. It was our second semester during law school at WMU-Cooley, and a mutual friend invited us to a house party. We watched a boxing match together.

Moultrie:  It was a Saturday night, and a bunch of us were big boxing fans. I don’t think Liesl was, but we got to talking together as part of the big group of law school friends. Many of us from the Tampa Bay campus were just trying to do extra things outside of classes to meet up and just hang out. We would hook up to play basketball or some other sport, or we would participate in the WMU-Cooley sanctioned events like the welcome back mixers and pro bono activities. For both of us, it really wasn’t love at first sight.

Yet by the end of our third semester, we had really built a strong friendship. It was gradual, and over time. We were in law school, and that was the focus and priority. Plus we were just enjoying our law school experience. Liesl is very athletic so that was a fun connection. We played on the flag football team together at WMU-Cooley. We started going to a lot of parties together. We would go to other events, like my Florida State alumni events. I remember fondly the time she took me out for my birthday in 2014. But law school was all encompassing and it wasn’t  until after I graduated, and she was about to graduate a term later, that we started talking about taking our relationship to the next level.

HOW DID YOU MANAGE THE WHOLE LAW SCHOOL THING? 

Griffin: We purposely stayed away from getting into a relationship during law school. We were able to maintain a friendship, which was important. I think it was a combination of things that brought us together as a couple, starting with us both going through law school together. As law students you spend a lot of time together regardless. You don’t have time to anything other than law school related activities. You know people because you may get to school early, and you’re sitting in the lounge, and you’re just engaging in conversations with people who are already there, or you’re talking about classes, and there’s always some sort of topic to discuss from a class you were in together.

Moultrie: Liesl is the one of few words in our relationship, and I am the one who likes to talk. But we balance each other out. I remember I was studying for the bar with her for hours, then hanging out to relax after. We needed that. I think we both feel, even though it’s something you don’t realize it at the time, what a close-knit group we had in law school.  I’m not just saying that for the camera. You really do feel like part of a family. I appreciate that. People who haven’t been to law school or studied for a bar exam don’t realize what it’s like. We were there for each other and supported each other through it. The relationship was shaped over time and it was a combination of things that made our relationship whole.

WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW, OTHER THAN PLANNING A WEDDING? 

Moultrie: Since I graduated in August 2015, and passed the February 2016 bar, I quickly got a job at the state attorney’s office of Hillsboro County, which is in downtown Tampa. I’m working as a prosecutor, along with several other WMU-Cooley graduates, by the way.  I’m licensed here in Florida, but in a couple weeks I will be swearing into the D.C. bar.

Griffin: Right now I work for a law firm in Los Angeles doing legal work for them while I study for the bar exam. I’m learning a lot from that.

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE GOALS?

Moultrie: My long-term goal, believe it or not, is to be a collegiate athletic director. I would love to practice for awhile, then consider transitioning into college athletics over time.

Griffin: After we get married, I plan to move to Tampa and look for a job in federal law, or possibly tax law or immigration law.

OTHER GOALS?

Moultrie: Well, we would like to start a family, but we have a rule. Let me tell you what it is. Liesl is Miss World Traveler. She has her father’s traveling spirit, as do I. The rule is that I have to take her to four countries that she’s never been before we start a family. I’m excited about the idea travel and starting a family so win-win for me!

Griffin: Right! And I mean countries, not just a quick trip to Jamaica, or something that’s an hour flight. I mean somewhere in Europe or Asia or another hard-to-get-to destination.

Moultrie: Yes! I think we’re looking a European honeymoon, maybe London and Dublin.

WMU-Cooley graduates Brandon Moultrie and Liesl Griffin

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WMU-Cooley graduate Brandon Moultrie: Forging lasting memories and lifelong friendships

WMU-Cooley Law School graduate Brandon Moultrie knew he wanted to go to law school, and knew that he wanted to do it Florida. Ever since he did his undergrad in the Sunshine State, he relished the opportunity to come back. It took one campus visit to WMU-Cooley’s Tampa Bay campus to be convinced. Everybody made him feel like he was already home.

“Once I was on campus,” remembered Moultrie, “I got to meet all the staff members. They showed me around the campus and explained to me what life would be like in law school. I got to meet lots of students – they were already sitting in the library, so it was easy to chat with them and get their take.”

Moultrie found his education at WMU-Cooley invaluable, including his Trial Skills classes, which really stood out for him in terms of how prepared he felt in the courtroom.

“My Trial Skills training really gave me a solid foundation for what I do today as a prosecutor,” stated Moultrie on his time at WMU-Cooley. “In Trial Skills you get three full trials. We had a witness. We had to go through the steps of examining the witnesses, cross-examining the witnesses, scouring over all of the evidence, seeing what was relevant, seeing what was not. We got a trial partner. We got to go up against our colleagues. It was actually my only experience before getting a job and doing it for real.”

“I also felt I forged a lot of lifelong friendships among the students. I know that people don’t really imagine when you are sitting in orientation, or sitting in your first semester class taking Intro to Law, or that the people sitting to your right or your left, or in front or behind you, are going to become your friends over the next few years, but that’s what happens. Next thing you know, you will be professionals and referring cases to them and they will be referring case to you.

Moultrie also appreciated how prepared he felt during the bar.

“I took the bar and passed it the first time. Not only that, I felt prepared going into the exam. The bar prep courses at WMU-Cooley teach the concepts you will need to know. For me, studying and taking the Florida bar, was not learning something new, but a matter of reviewing concepts you knew. So when I was reviewing Contracts, I heard Professor Renalia DuBose’s voice during her Contracts class from years ago – the same for my other classes.

” That’s when you really learn to appreciate the value of your school – because you know they didn’t sell you short. They didn’t just push you through or kick you out or leave you hanging when it really counts – when you’re studying for the bar.

WMU-Cooley Law School graduate Brandon Moultrie

It’s obvious that Moultrie is proud of his accomplishments and his alma mater.

I’m not even a big “rah-rah my school” guy, but I never imagined the pride that I would feel for WMU-Cooley. Today, when I see another WMU-Cooley lawyer walk in, I’m so excited to see them. It’s like seeing family you haven’t visited in a long time. Many I see on a day-to-day basis.

“We all come from different backgrounds and different cities and states. The WMU-Cooley alumni network is far and wide. I can tell you firsthand that my fiancée, a fellow WMU-Cooley graduate, is from Los Angeles and attended the Tampa Bay campus. She went back to LA to study for the California bar. While she’s been out there though, she was able to attend a WMU-Cooley networking event. It’s kind of crazy to think that you can go to law school in Tampa Bay and still meet up with fellow graduates on the other side of the country. She already has their phone numbers and contact information!

WMU-Cooley Law School graduate Brandon Moultrie

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WMU-Cooley graduate Hardam Tripathi: Diversity, culture and a passion to help others

WMU-Cooley is a military friendly and designated Yellow Ribbon School. This month’s military blog feature is recent WMU-Cooley graduate Hardam Tripathi. Learn about his law school journey and his new position as an Officer and Judge Advocate with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps.

Early on, Hardam Tripathi knew he wanted to be an attorney. He knew he liked working with people and he knew he wanted to do something that could make a difference in his community. Yet his path to his ultimate career choice was winding. He originally thought his educational background would lead him to a career in the health industry, especially after obtaining a master’s degree in pharmaceutical outcomes and policy.

But it wasn’t until he went to law school that he discovered his real passion.

“I remember looking into law schools after I finished my graduate degree from the University of Florida,” recalled Tripathi. “I didn’t know about Western Michigan University Cooley Law School because it was new in the Tampa Bay area. A friend of mine, who is in the Army special forces, was attending WMU-Cooley and he had a lot of good things to say about the law school. He told me that WMU-Cooley was a great place to study law for someone with a military background or interested in a military career. He told me that WMU-Cooley was a very military friendly school and it offered a great program in support of the military like offering military law classes and homeland and a national security law review.

“My friend told me that all of the professors had practiced law in the industry for many years, and they knew exactly how the law was applied. When you have a practitioner teaching you the law versus someone who is just teaching theory alone, it makes for a much better experience as a student.

But what really made my mind up was the personal and friendly relationships I made with the people and my belief in the law school’s inclusive mission. That’s why I chose Western Michigan University Cooley Law School over any other law school in the Florida state area.”

“Culture is key,” stated Tripathi. “Culture is who we are. It’s what we’re made up of. It is the fundamental part of life that sticks to us in all different societies. It is the United States of America. It’s culture. It is diversity. So, when you want to become a practitioner and study law, and practice law, diversity is very key. It’s something that’s so important in our day-to-day lives. It’s what attracted me to Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

“The thing is, when you go into the real world, you’re not going to be working with people just like you. You’re going to be working with people of all different types of races, cultures, religions and creeds. I believe WMU-Cooley instills this in their students – to respect diversity. To respect culture. To respect a life where people respect other views and their viewpoints.”

During his time at WMU-Cooley, Tripathi honed in on his career options and potential by taking advantage of the law school’s clinical opportunities and extra-curricular activities.

“It was during my internship with the Community Legal Service in Florida, where I discovered my interest for government work,” recalled Tripathi. “After that internship, I worked with the DEA (Diversion Control Division), the ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives), and then the U.S. State Department, where I learned about veterans law and worked with veterans. I loved it!

“I then got to participate in an internship with the U.S. Air Force JAG Corp at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. I felt so lucky to be selected, especially since there is a lower than 5 percent acceptance rate in the program.

“My experience at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School really comes down to the professors and the students. Our people are the grain that makes up this university. My professors taught me how to handle certain situations and issues and how to advocate zealously for your clients, professionally and responsibly. These are the kind of professors that we breed here at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. They are great because they teach and ingrain these values in the students to make sure that you aren’t just a decent attorney but a great person and a great professional. I would say there are some experiences I had with my professors that will have a lasting impact on me.

It was his experience with U.S. Air Force JAG Corp though that solidified his love and passion to serve in the military as a judge advocate.

This past April, Tripathi graduated from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School. He found it to be one of the most memorable experiences of his life having his classmates, professors, family, friends, and all his loved ones there in support of his accomplishment. What was even nicer was that he already had a job.

“I am proud to say I will be serving the United States Army Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps as an Officer and Judge Advocate. I am very excited to start and to serve my country.”

Tripathi has already set new goals for himself. He believes in having short-, mid-, and long-term goals, but his ultimate goal is to help his community and to serve.

“What is the purpose of going to law school,” questioned Tripathi, “if it is not to help those who can’t help themselves?

“I think it is very important, especially in the legal profession where you are entrusted with the responsibility to help others, that you are always professional and work with your clients in an ethical manner. My immediate goal is to serve in military and immerse myself in the legal field and profession. After that, I can see myself possibly in the U.S. Attorney’s Office as a prosecutor.

Tripathi is a self-proclaimed family man. Coming from an Indian descent, he feels his background and its cultural traditions play into his dedication to family and community.

“Ultimately, why do we all do this – it is for our families,” declared Tripathi. “Why do we become doctors? Why do we become lawyers? Why do we become engineers? Why do we do anything that we do? It is for our families.”

Tripathi enjoys playing drums, singing, sports, and travel.

“We love to sing and do a lot of singing events,” smiled Tripathi. “We will go out to different places and play music together. It’s a wonderful way instill culture and joy to my family. I also love being active and participating in sports like basketball and running. Staying active physically keeps me going.

“Another important thing to me is serving on the executive board of directors of the United Nations Association. It has expanded my awareness of my culture and other cultures and learn what is going on the world around us. In India, there is a spring festival called Holi. It’s known as the festival of colors and signifies good over evil. It’s always a fun day to gather together to play, laugh, forget and forgive. The powders and colors are used symbolize love and repair of broken relationships.

Traveling is also key though. We relish our family cruises and trips to other states and countries. It’s a wonderful to just get away and relax. Ultimately, we plan to make a sojourn to India.

Hardam2

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WMU-Cooley graduate Josh Mikrut: Huge, Gaping Hole and Need for Immigration Attorneys

Josh Mikrut spent his entire academic career in West Michigan, including his undergrad years at Grand Valley State University majoring in political science and philosophy (with a minor in Spanish), and his master’s degree in international development administration at Western Michigan University, where he also met his wife. His long-term goal though was to practice law, ideally with an international component.

Mikrut had previously considered joining the military after graduating from WMU, but knowing that he soon would be married, he decided it was time to start focusing on his legal career. He started looking around at law schools in the West Michigan area and WMU-Cooley was the obvious choice for him.

“At the time, WMU-Cooley had just opened a brand new campus in Grand Rapids,” recalled Mikrut. “I knew because I saw the highway signs promoting its Open House. My wife and I attended, and we were impressed. The law center was a fantastic, beautiful, brand new facility, with a beautiful library, in particular. We met up with faculty and took a tour. I learned about their generous scholarships. I thought it was cool that I wasn’t able to lose that scholarship – I got to keep it throughout the time that I was enrolled at WMU-Cooley. Plus, I remember that, although I didn’t have a 100 percent scholarship, I could increase my scholarship during law school depending on my academic success. That really attracted and motivated me to attend WMU-Cooley Law School.

WMU-Cooley graduate Josh Mikrut

“My primary goal was to make law school affordable. I had debt already from undergrad and graduate school. Of course, going to law school is never cheap, but WMU-Cooley makes it possible for anyone with initiative and a good resume to do really well.  After I met the Dean of the Grand Rapids campus and did some background checking on WMU-Cooley, I  just really didn’t feel like I ever needed to look anywhere else.

Mikrut is happy to say he made a great decision, and he appreciated the experiences and legal education he received.

“During my time at WMU-Cooley, I tried to figure out exactly what I wanted to do with my degree,” said Mikrut. “You have all sorts of opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities to try things on for size. In my first year I participated in a Moot Court competition and did really well. Then from that experience, I was allowed to take the Moot Court class, and did really well. I also did an  international Moot Court law competition during my time at WMU-Cooley, and I did really well there too.

“I knew I wanted to include an international aspects to my legal practice, but I purposely undertook many other different extracurricular actives, with the goal in mind of trying things out to see what fit. It also made me realize a lot about my likes and dislikes. Through my Moot Court experiences, I discovered that I didn’t like the idea of doing criminal cases, but I loved litigation that involved motion practice and doing arguments in front of judges.

“It’s funny. The ideas I went into law school with — what I was looking for, what I had thought I wanted to do — was completely different from what I ended up doing,” chuckled Mikrut.

After graduating in January 2011, passing the bar in February 2011, then starting the network process, Mikrut met up with one of his former classmates. His friend worked for a big firm in town, Smith, Haughey, Rice & Roegge.

“I had lunch with him one day because I knew some other people at Smith, and I wanted to get on their radar and check out the possibility of getting a job there. My friend pointed out to me that he knew that I spoke Spanish. He had another friend who was looking for people that spoke Spanish because their law firm served, for the most part, exclusively to the Latino community in West Michigan. I dropped off a resume to the firm and they hired me shortly after.”

It was from this out of law school experience that Mikrut was exposed to immigration law — something he had never thought of during law school.

WMU-Cooley graduate Josh Mikrut

“It was fascinating,” exclaimed Mikrut. “It had all kinds of aspects that I was interested in. I was attracted to the fact that I was in the courtroom working in front of a jury. I loved the opportunity to use my Spanish and be a lawyer at the same time.

He learned a lot during the three years he worked for the firm, and in December 2014 he was able to open his own Immigration Law firm, The Law Office of Joshua J. Mikrut PLC.

“There is a tremendous international component to practicing immigration law that I love — the multi-cultural aspect. Plus immigration law is a very large field that you can sub-divide. Things like removal practice, family practice and employment-based practice. Removal practice is a lot of what I do now. It’s defending folks that are in the process of being deported that are in removal proceedings before an immigration judge. That’s just one big area of immigration law practice. It’s been amazing to be involved in such a relevant area of legal practice. It’s important to me to help. My mission and vocational focus is to provide outstanding and accessible legal service to a population of people who really need it.

According to Mikrut, “In the political climate today, there is an incredible, huge gaping hole, need for lawyers to do what we’re trying to do here.”

“To what extent are we going to be a nation of immigrants,” questions Mikrut. “To what extent are we going to welcome immigrants here? And if we do welcome immigrants, which ones are we going to welcome? Are we going to welcome ones with high skill degrees like engineers and software designers, or are we going to welcome those who came over like my ancestors who were poor, poor, poor, and only had a bag of clothes on their back, coming over from Poland? That’s been a very essential American story, I think.

“It’s difficult to see this play out on the ground every day. It is an incredibly important job and it’s very, very easy to feel passionate about it, and feel much sympathy for my clients.”

As Mikrut reflects back on his time at WMU-Cooley, he is thankful for the path that brought him to where he is today.

“I just can’t believe I am running my own civil practice,” exclaimed Mikrut. “I never would have thought this is where I would end up. I am super happy doing it. I feel like I am living the American dream by running my own business. I think a big part of what emboldened me to even try opening my own business was having met and known and encouraged by so many great lawyers that I met while at WMU-Cooley. The relationships I had with so many of my professors, including giving me much of their time to give me both academic and personal advice. I had fantastic professors that instructed me. I had fantastic examples that showed me what it looked like to do this job. Getting to know these lawyers really well, and having felt that they really poured their souls into what they offered us, really made me feel like I knew what it meant to be a lawyer before I was one.

WMU-Cooley graduate Josh Mikrut and Anna at the Law Office of Joshua J. Mikrut, esq.

WMU-Cooley graduate Josh Mikrut and Anna Verbeek of the Law Office of Joshua J. Mikrut

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