Author Archives: Terry Carella

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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Tanya Gibbs: Business and Law Background Connects WMU-Cooley Graduate to Her Tribe’s Culture and Heritage

Tanya Gibbs knew she wanted to be an attorney since the 11th grade when her high school math teacher suggested she go to a national student conference in Washington, D.C.  For 10 days she learned about the laws that govern our nation, toured the city, and even met the Supreme Court justices and several high-end defense attorneys. “I just thought it was the coolest thing, and I wanted to be a part of that,” said Gibbs.

From that point forward, she prepared herself for a legal career.

“Knowing that I wanted to be a lawyer, I decided that I would go to a liberal arts school and concentrate in political theory and philosophy, which really helped,” said Gibbs. “I fine-tuned my analytical skills and engaged in a number of entrepreneurial activities.  I even ran my own business for a few years, which was very successful. It was that experience that helped me realize that business law was where I wanted to go and where I would focus my legal education. When I graduated from MSU, I knew that I wanted to go right to law school, and I knew that I wanted to be in Grand Rapids. I also knew WMU-Cooley was in Grand Rapids. I heard good things about the school, and I applied. I’m the type of person that, once I make my mind up about something, that’s just where I go and what I do.

Once Gibbs started law school at WMU-Cooley, she knew she had made the right decision.

“Even sitting in my first Property class, which might sound boring, I found learning about property law, even in the 1800s, was really interesting, and that business law was definitely the right career choice. During my time at WMU-Cooley, I was able to not only learn the theory behind the law, but really learn the things that I needed to know about the practice of law, and how to be a lawyer.”

But it was WMU-Cooley’s real-world, hands-on approach that she found so crucial in law school — particularly as to how it related to her heritage as a Native American.

“My law school  internship with my tribe (Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians) during my second year was amazing,” exclaimed Gibbs. “I was able to work with them on business and economic development issues and actually applied the things I had just started learning about in law school. I found it to be important work. I was able to help answer questions my tribe had about creating and operating businesses and go to bat for them on a number of legal issues they were facing. I continued to learn more  those more about business in my third year — things like legal structures, operational issues, compliance issues and real estate development — all areas I was able to take back to my tribe and make a difference, even before I graduated and while I studied for the bar. It was very, very helpful. I think that’s one of the great things about WMU-Cooley is that you learn the things that you really need to know. Even in my practice just about a month ago, I was referring back to my notes from my business planning class my 3L year, so definitely real life, practical information.”

WMU-Cooley graduate Tanya Gibbs

Gibbs works for a small boutique nationwide firm that specializes in non-gaming economic development – which includes every type of business that an Indian tribe might own and operate outside of a casino.The firm is majority native-owned and works with Indian tribes and their wholly owned businesses.

“Each Indian tribe is a sovereign nation, which means they have the ability to make their own laws and self governed,” explained Gibbs. “I do everything from help the tribal government draft and enact a limited liability company code  to helping them engage their own business by creating a separate legal entity, wholly-owned by the tribe. This can be anything from owning a fuel station, to real estate development, to e-commerce and consumer financial services-type business. It encompasses all kinds of things.  I’ve been able to do very large, hundreds of millions of dollars, merger and acquisition, as well as regulatory compliance and contract reviews.”

Gibbs finds her career intensely interesting and rewarding.

“In my work, there are lots of fun waters to navigate,” smiled Gibbs. “As a sovereign nation, the tribes aren’t subject to state laws, and they are only subject to federal laws in certain situations. It’s an interesting regulatory and legal landscape when you have three different jurisdictions, or three different regulatory bodies that are interested in the same activity that may or may not be occurring on Indian land.

WMU-Cooley graduate Tanya Gibbs

Gibbs reflected on her own ancestry and Tribal culture.

“I’m a descendant of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, on my dad’s side of the family, and have always known about my culture. Growing up, my father’s family never was very traditional or involved in their tribal culture. I think it might have had to do with the politics associated with being native in the ’80s. State and federal governments were taking Indian children from Indian homes, which resulted in Indian Child Welfare Act and the Michigan Indian Family Preservation Act. Lots of my older family back then didn’t want to associate with the tribe, including my dad.

“Yet, there was a local attorney who moved his family to my hometown when I was in the third grade. They became my pseudo-Indian family. I was able to join his family in lots of cultural and traditional events and activities, and they taught me a lot of about our native culture and what it means to be part of a tribe. So when I had the opportunity to go back to my tribe to do an internship during law school, I was really excited because I had never really spent much time on my reservation and on Indian land. It was very cool to learn about the government, our different traditions. About how we work and to learn about our values. It’s just been really wonderful!

“That experience solidified my desire to do business law, but more importantly that I wanted to do it for Indian tribes. I feel very fortunate to be able to walk out of law school and be able to do exactly what I planned to do all along. My practice is especially wonderful because, although we work primarily with tribes in Michigan and Wisconsin, our firm, as a national firm, works with tribes all over the country. Each tribe is different and has a different culture and different traditions. Getting to know all different types of people is so cool for me, and it’s a feeling of being connected. A lot of my clients, we don’t just give a handshake, we hug. We’re all family and you get to know people and get close to folks.

The ability to meet different people and different kinds of tribes, and to learn about different kinds of issues is, for me, simply fun.

WMU-Cooley graduate Tanya Gibbs

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Weekend law student Stephanie Samuels: Never too late to start a new life

Stephanie Samuels was almost 60 years old when she finally discovered she could make her life dream of going to law school a reality. Up until then, “life sort of just happened,” and it was never really an option – until she heard about WMU-Cooley’s weekend program.

“I talked to my husband about it,” said Samuels, “and I said, ‘You know what, I think I might be able to do this.'”

Since Stephanie worked for American Airlines, she philosophized that, with a little bit of creativity and some luck, it was within reason for her to fly from her home in the Texas, Dallas-Fort Worth area to WMU-Cooley’s Lansing campus once a week for classes. Well, that is exactly what she was able to do, every weekend for the last five years.

Even better, she was able to fly back and forth for free.

“Now the cool thing for me is I actually can fly standby,” grinned Stephanie, “and in the entire five years I went to law school, I only missed one weekend. WMU-Cooley has been flexible – really, really flexible for me. I have been able to do a lot of things I never thought I would be able to do. I got to be part of a mock trial team as a weekend student, plus I got to study abroad two semesters, in both Oxford, England and in Hamilton, New Zealand. I would never have been able to do those kind of things had it not been for Cooley and the weekend program.

“All of my law school experiences have really opened life up for me and given me the confidence to start my own private practice in international law. I’m even thinking about doing a non-profit, which was an offshoot idea I got from a contact I made during my time in New Zealand. One of the professors at the University of Waikato was a member of the United Nations in New York and she invited me and another law student to the UN’s annual indigenous rights convention.  What an incredible opportunity! I will never forget it.

“I am so excited to start this new life and explore all the possibilities . They are endless to me now. That’s because of Cooley.”

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Weekend Student Jason Puscas: At the end of the day, law school is an investment

Jason Puscas doesn’t believe you should have to choose between a stable family life, post-secondary education and a prospering career in public policy. A self-proclaimed lifelong learner, Puscas is determined to be successful at all three aspects of his life.

“I think there is always a desire to continue your education as you move on with your career and professional life,” Puscas said. “Being able to go to law school seemed like a great opportunity to grow professionally.”

Since graduating from Grand Valley State University in 2009 with a degree in political science, Puscas has held a number of positions in public policy. He is currently the Director of Government Relations at the Detroit Regional Chamber. He’s also pursuing his law degree on weekends, as a student enrolled in WMU-Cooley’s Weekend Program.

“When you really think about it, law is a result of public policy and that’s an area that I’ve really fallen in love with as I’ve advanced in my career,” he said.

He wasn’t always sure law school was a realistic opportunity.

“As you get older and farther away from your undergraduate degree, your priorities obviously change.” Puscas said. “Whether that be family or a full-time career, your schedules are harder. It’s more difficult to try to make those decisions, what your priorities are going to be. What Cooley was able to offer was the flexibility for me to be able to pursue both at once. “

WMU-Cooley’s Weekend Program allows students to complete their entire legal education taking classes exclusively on the weekends, or any combination during the week. Weekend classes start in September at the Lansing campus and May at the Auburn Hills and Tampa Bay campuses.

“Being able to go to school, continue my career, and have time to spend at home wasn’t an opportunity I was able to find somewhere else,” Puscas said. “For me personally, having a wonderful girlfriend at home and a house to take care of, having a full-time job in Lansing working 40-60 hours per week, and being able to somehow still fit that desire to continue learning into your schedule is pretty unique. It’s not an opportunity you often find in the modern post-secondary environment.”

Puscas, who plans to graduate this year, said his experience in the classroom has been a positive one at WMU-Cooley.

“You watch television and see these gigantic lecture halls and you see this Socratic method where you are being called on and challenged,” he said. “It’s not like that at all. It’s not nearly as scary as you think it’s going to be. The classroom sizes are intimate. The professors all have a level of practical knowledge and experience that they can relate to and share with you. It’s really more of an ongoing discussion and an opportunity to grasp an area of the law and talk about it as a group.”

Puscas also reflected on the investment he feels he’s making by pursuing a degree from WMU-Cooley.

“Part of what made Cooley the right choice for me was the fact that they do offer generous scholarship opportunities,” he said. “When you combine that with the flexibility they offer, the convenience of the class schedule, I don’t know where else I would have gone. Cooley was the right choice.”

WMU-Cooley student Jason Puscas

WMU-Cooley student Jason Puscas

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Military Feature Zaneta Adams: Disabled Iraqi War veteran gives back to veterans in law career

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. January 2017’s feature is WMU-Cooley graduate Zaneta Adams, a U.S. Army Retired PFC. She served eight years in the military, including her time with the U.S. Army National Guard, the Army Reserves, and Active Duty. After being severely injured during active duty, she made it her purpose to get a legal degree and serve her fellow brothers and sisters get the veteran benefits they so deserve. 

Military rank and title: U.S. Army Retired PFC

Why did you decide to go to law school: I decided to go to law school because I wanted to right injustices and help veterans fight for their VA benefits. I made the decision to attend WMU-Cooley because of its amazing scholarship programs, the fact that it is a yellow ribbon school (which saved me money), and its ideal location close to my home and work.

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Tell us about your military experience: I went into the Army because I loved the values that the Army had and I thought it would make me a better person.  I also wanted to give back and be of service to my country. I started in the Army when I was a junior in college.  I served eight years between my time with the U.S. Army National Guard, the Army Reserves, and Active Duty.

Career and future goals: I represent and do all my law-related duties at Williams Hughes Law firm in Muskegon, Michigan. My responsibilities include prosecuting and defending criminal cases, handling Family Law cases, processing Department of Veterans Affairs’ claims and appeals for veterans, and interviewing clients. My sincere hope is to educate, assist, and help veterans get their well-deserved benefits. I want to make Michigan the number one state where veterans receive their benefits. In addition, I work as a contractor with the Michigan Attorney General’s Office doing OKAY-2-SAY school and community presentations to help raise awareness of cyber bullying, child pornography, sexting, and cyber safety. My ultimate aspiration is to one day be a Michigan or U.S. Supreme Court Justice.

Tell us a little about you: I have been married for 18 years and have six children (two sets of twins). I am a disabled Iraqi War veteran (served in support of the war) who was severely injured after falling 10-11 feet from a deuce and half truck. At the time, I never would have imagined after my injury that I would have been able to successfully complete law school and serve my fellow brothers and sisters in arms in this way. WMU-Cooley people were patient, understanding, and very accommodating to the things I personally needed to succeed. One thing they gave me was the confidence in my own abilities. They encouraged me and let me know that my physical injury was not a barrier to law school given my sharp mind and my commitment and conviction to succeed in law school and in my career.

WMU-Cooley graduate Zaneta Adams with WMU-Cooley Assistant Dean Tracey Brame.

WMU-Cooley graduate Zaneta Adams with WMU-Cooley Assistant Dean Tracey Brame.

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Weekend Law Student Reese Kewin: Single mom of six pursues dream of law school at 46

Reese Kewin is not your average law student. In fact, there’s nothing average about her. At 46, and starting law school, Reese knew that a “huge life change was ahead,” not only for her, but for her six children.

“People often ask me, ‘Why law school? Why now?’ I take a deep breath and say, Well, it’s something, quite honestly, I have thought about for a long time, for decades it seems.”

A self proclaimed Michigander, and having gone to high school and college in Michigan, Reese knew all about Cooley. She always kept it in the back of her mind whenever she thought about going to law school. Of course, as often happens, life got in the way, and law school was pushed aside. She got married, moved away, had children, got divorced – then suddenly, many years later, found herself back in Lansing working only blocks away from Cooley. Law school was literally staring her in the face.

“One day I got up and I thought, you know what? Stop just thinking about it!”

So, that day, Reese boldly walked into WMU-Cooley’s Lansing campus and asked the Admission Office for a tour. “All of my questions were answered,” Reese stated in relief. “I just knew, as I walked the halls, that this was the place I needed to be! And as I left Cooley, after touring the whole campus and the library, walking the few blocks back to work, I started to cry. It sounds kind of silly, but after all these years of wanting to do this, I knew that this was where I belonged. That was it, I took the LSAT a few months later.”

The Weekend Program was exactly what she needed to make this dream of law school possible. Reese started her law school journey working full-time while taking two classes, plus Intro to Law. Then, just as she was getting used to being a student again, life handed her another curve ball.

“I had just finished my first term, and as it happens in Telecomm, my industry of choice for 22 years, layoffs occurred,” declared Reese. “I again found myself taking a deep breath, and I thought, even with just a term of law school under my belt, I am going to try to dip my toe into the legal field to see what I can do. I approached the career development folks here at Cooley, and they sat down with me and revamped my entire 22 year Telecomm career into a legal resume for me! I then went to some job fairs and found that the legal field was very welcoming and open.  I even found a job as a student assistant working for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Once again, my choice to go to law school, even as an older student, was just reaffirmed for me!”

As any parent knows, this law school journey was not going to be alone. She needed her children to be on board and to support her decision. So she kept reinforcing it with them.

“When you guys start back to school, mommy is starting back to school,” Reese remembers saying to her children. She made it clear that she was going to need time to study, and that there will be times when you will want to do things, but we aren’t going to be able to do them. She let them know that they all needed to be flexible and will need to come up with some alternatives.

But she really never needed to worry. Her children have supported her wholeheartedly.

“I think, at least I hope, that in some small way they see that, wow, if mom can go and do this, then we can do anything too.”

As the first term ended for Reese, and her grades rolled in, the tears flowed again after seeing how she did. “The kids were like, ‘oh mom, did you not do well?’ and I said, ‘No! I got a four point!”

Her son understood why she was crying and why she was going to law school. “Mom, I know why you’re doing this. Because you want to help people.”

Reese wiped the tears and said, “That’s exactly why I am doing this.”


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Devolder Law Firm: New Grads Find Success Right Out of the Gate

Less than six months ago, Bryan and Elizabeth Devolder opened their own business, The Devolder Law Firm, in suburban Tampa. In the words of  Elizabeth Devolder, “We are very pleased. It’s been doing even better than we expected. We just had our third profitable week!” 

The fact that Elizabeth and Bryan Devolder have been able to create a successful law business right out of the gate is of no surprise to anyone else, especially WMU-Cooley’s Tampa Bay campus. devolder-door As students, both Bryan and Elizabeth were committed, exceptional law students. As attorneys, they are equally involved and dedicated to their new venture.

What really makes them successful though is that they are truly exceptional human beings – as a couple – and as individuals.

One only need look at Bryan and Elizabeth’s team national finals win in the American Bar Association (ABA) Law Student Division Client Counseling Competition to see that goals made are goals reached. Even National Jurist Magazine named Elizabeth a law student of the year in 2016. Both Bryan and Elizabeth graduated magna cum laude from law school. And they did it all while balancing work, school, family, and mentoring other law students while students.

Opening their law firm was yet another exercise in balancing what is important to them, including “helping others protect what matters most,” which is their business philosophy and motto.

Their new business has already proven to be, not only profitable, but very interesting and important work.

devolders“This week we had a call from a man and his wife,” shared Elizabeth. “The man had been served papers on the day of our phone call. His ex-wife had filed an ex parte motion, and the judge had already issued an order modifying the divorce judgment, with a hearing set for the next week. We immediately agreed to meet with him that day. When the gentleman arrived for his initial consultation, we were surprised to find out that the papers were from a court were from another state. This was just one of the many complicated pieces of the puzzle for this client.”

They have been able to serve and help many clients since they opened. So many that it looked like they might need to expand.

devolderlaw005_web“We have been so busy in our business that we have already hired another attorney,WMU-Cooley graduate Sarah Harris, to manage the Wills, Trusts & Estate Planning clients who need our help,” shared Bryan. “The business is growing, now with the help of three WMU-Cooley graduates, and we are proud of our alma mater. That’s just another reason why Cooley is an awesome law school choice.”

“One of the great things about Cooley is our nationwide network of graduates, ” added Elizabeth. “I’ve been able to do a simple Google search to find any number of listings that have included our graduates in almost any area of law or legal expertise. Even nice is that the Avvo listing of the graduates I have found have outstanding reviews. The last search I did was a Cooley graduate with an excellent score along with experience commensurate with, or exceeding, the qualifications of opposing counsel. And when I did contact his office, he returned my call in three minutes and let me know he appreciated the call from a fellow graduate. He was a joy to talk to, and very helpful. He even knew the opposing counsel and her work. He immediately understood the client’s situation and got us a letter we could forward to the client within an hour. He called our client back before the end of the day, despite the fact that he had a family obligation that evening!”

Both Bryan and Elizabeth also have benefited from the knowledge shared by other graduates.

“The graduates we have been in contact with have been more than open to discussing strategy with us and going the extra mile,” said Elizabeth. “And we are happy to also share our knowledge about Florida law. We enjoy working with them and they ‘enjoy working with young Cooley grads’ as one fellow grad said to me. Everybody wins!

devolder-lake

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