Category Archives: Faculty Scholarship

Cooley has one of the largest and most experienced faculty in the nation. Faculty members come to Cooley with years of experience in the practice of law. They combine “real world” knowledge with exceptional academic backgrounds. The full-time faculty make Cooley an outstanding legal education program. They are professionals dedicated to the ideals of practical legal scholarship and academic excellence.

WMU-Cooley Faculty Member Honored as one of 2017 Women in the Law

WMU-Cooley Law School Director of Academic Services and Associate Professor Emily Horvath was chosen by Michigan Lawyers Weekly as one of its 2017 Women in the Law. Each year, the Women in the Law program honors 30 high-achieving women lawyers in Michigan and their accomplishments.

Associate Professor Emily Horvath

Emily Horvath

Horvath joined WMU-Cooley Law School faculty in 2005. In addition to teaching Wills, Estates & Trusts at the law school, Horvath also serves as the director of Academic Services, where she works with students and faculty to develop programming to improve student success on the bar exam. In 2014, she received the distinction, Most Outstanding Professor of the Fraternity in the Nation, from Delta Theta Phi, International Law Fraternity.

Horvath is an advocate for human rights. She has served as co-chair of Michigan Pride to plan and execute the annual Statewide Pride March, Rally & Festival for LGBT rights. She also has served as president and chair of “Ways & Means” of the Zonta Club East Lansing Area (ZCELA), a group of individuals dedicated to improving the legal, political, economic, educational, health and professional status of women at the global and local level through service and advocacy.

Michigan Lawyers Weekly selected Professor Horvath not only because of her commitment to the legal profession, but for her commitment to helping the community at large,” said Christine Church, WMU-Cooley associate dean of academic programs.  “She is well deserving of this honor and we are proud of her accomplishments at the law school and beyond.”

Before joining WMU-Cooley as a faculty member, Horvath was an associate attorney with the firm of White, Schneider, Young & Chiodini, P.C. In this position, she developed an estate planning practice for the 13-member law firm, including planning for young families, domestic partners and estate tax avoidance. Her legal career began in 1999 at the firm of Willingham & Coté, P.C., first as a paralegal, and later as an associate attorney.

In addition to Horvath, WMU-Cooley Law School graduates Susan Cook, Laura Genovich, Mary Pigorsh, Sarah Ostahowski and Cinnamon Rice have also been selected as members of Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s  2017 class of Women in the Law for their work in the legal profession.

Cook is a partner at Warner Norcross & Judd LLP with more than 35 years of experience in the areas of bankruptcy, business reorganization, commercial litigation and business transactions. Genovich, a shareholder of Foster Swift Collins & Smith PC, practices municipal and commercial law in the firm’s Grand Rapids office. Pigorsh practices family law and domestic relations with Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge. Ostahowski owns Sarah’s Law Firm, which offers services in estate planning, and probate and estate administration. Rice is a shareholder at the law firm of Zausmer, August & Caldwell PC. She handles civil litigation matters, including first-party no-fault and third-party automobile negligence claims, premises liability, construction accidents, fraud and insurance coverage disputes.

A luncheon celebrating the Class of 2017 Women in the Law will be held Thursday, Sept. 7 at the Detroit Marriott Troy. The Woman of the Year, selected by a vote of the class, will be announced at the event.

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Did Trump Junior Commit Treason? Don’t Bet On It – Or Against It

WMU-Cooley Law Professor Brendan Beery

Blog author, Constitutional Law expert and WMU-Cooley Professor Brendan Beery  gives expert analysis surrounding media coverage regarding whether or not Donald Trump, Jr. committed treason. Professor Beery is a summa cum laude graduate of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School teaches Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, and Criminal Procedure. Professor Beery is a frequent legal expert in the media.

Until now, some pundits were hesitant to throw around the “C word” when discussing the Trump team’s seeming fetish for raw Russian power. That word was collusion. But the days when that word, and its attendant whiff of impossible scandal, were deemed hysterical or preposterous – well, those days, like the Biblical former world, have passed away.

The email exchange between Donald Trump, Jr. and a portly intermediary named Rob Goldstone proves that the Trump campaign did, in fact, collude with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton. To collude means to conspire (not necessarily in the legal sense), which in turn means to act in concert for the accomplishment of some improper purpose. As is the case with conspiring (even in the legal sense), colluding does not mean successfully executing some diabolical plan; it just means working together to try.

So the goalpost has moved. We’re on to the “T word.” Now the question isn’t whether Trump Jr. (and by extension the whole Trump operation) colluded, but whether Trump Jr. (or others similarly situated) committed treason. (Actually this is just one of many questions about many possible crimes, but since it’s in the ether, I want to focus on this one.) It’s way too soon to say that Trump Jr. did commit treason, and there are many voices out there screeching that he didn’t. (Jonathan Turley and Jeffrey Toobin, I’m looking at you.)

What I’d like to point out is that, just as it’s far too early to say that Trump Jr. did commit treason, it’s also a bit silly to have already concluded that he did not.

In the United States, treason is defined in the Constitution itself, not just a mere statute. Article III provides that treason “shall consist only in levying War against [the United States], or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.” (A federal statute, which can’t change the standard, merely parrots it: “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason …” 18 USC 2381.)

The two most important words in all of the law are and and or. Those words signal the relationships between ideas or elements, telling advocates whether they must show one thing, every item on a list of things, or some combination of things. We see that our Constitution’s definition of treason has an or in it – as well as at least one and.

Treason can consist either of waging war against the US or adhering to enemies of the US, giving them aid and comfort. As to the comma in that last sentence, let’s read that as an and, too (that’s the reading most favorable to Junior). That seems a fair reading; were a parent to tell a child, “You must get to bed, giving yourself plenty of rest,” that comma before giving certainly means and, not or – you should go to bed and get rest, not you should go to bed or get rest.

So we can represent treason, quasi-mathematically, this way: You commit treason if you

Levy + War + Against the United States

-or-

Adhere + To enemies of the US + Give those enemies (Aid + Comfort)

Let’s assume that, even though Trump Jr. might have participated in an attack on American democracy, he did not in any literal sense levy war against the United States. That leaves us with the question whether he adhered to an enemy of the US and gave that enemy aid and comfort.

Adhere

To adhere is to stick to or bind oneself to something. It can also mean to follow, as when one adheres to a religious belief. So the question would be whether Trump Jr. joined with or bound himself to something else – in this case, Russia (or Russians). It seems clear from his emails that he did join together with a foreign national to further a common purpose: the defeat of Hillary Clinton facilitated by Russian intelligence that, in all likelihood, would have been obtained through espionage. I note here how unlikely it is that Special Counsel Bob Mueller is going to believe Trump Jr.’s story that no ill-gotten information actually changed hands at the not-so-clandestine meeting. If this joining together turns out to have happened (in a way that is legally provable), then Trump Jr. seems to have adhered. On the other hand, if adhere means come under the spell of some anti-American orthodoxy (again, as in religious adherence), then we seem a long way from treason in this case.

Enemy of the United States

It’s true that when we talk about enemies of the US, we usually (historically) mean a country against whom we are engaged in a hot war. But the term “enemy” is not defined in the Constitution, and like most of the Constitution’s words, “enemy” is a broad and flexible term that should be interpreted in light of evolving realities. (Yes, the organic “living Constitution” view is the correct one, and “originalism” is highly suspect.) Many pols, lawyers, and national-security experts have claimed, with good reason, that what Russia did to the United States during the 2016 election cycle was nothing short of an act of war – not in the conventional sense, but in the sense that it involved key elements of war: an attack combined with the intent to achieve dominance over the United States by causing American institutions to malfunction and, ultimately, collapse. By that standard, Russia could be an enemy of the United States.

Giving Aid and Comfort

This term – aid and comfort – has always been broadly understood to mean nothing more than tangible help or assistance. The Russians had multiple objectives: to see the defeat of Hillary Clinton; to accomplish that end by employing espionage and subterfuge; to cause chaos in American politics; and to install an American government so compromised by Russian mischief as to be an extension of Vladimir Putin’s will. Trump Jr.’s emails arguably show that he was anxious to (and by accommodating the meeting request, actually endeavored to) help the Russians achieve those objectives. Critically, we don’t yet know the full extent of the Trump team’s efforts to help the Russians. Obviously, the deeper those efforts went, the stronger the case for treason becomes. We also don’t yet know the extent to which President Trump is compromised (his tax returns sure would help in that regard). The more compromised he is, the more likely it is that he and his family would have played along; the more likely it is that they would have provided aid and comfort.

Conclusion

One common misperception about treason, and one I’ve heard repeatedly recently, is that it requires a war and adherence and an enemy and the provision of aid and comfort. That’s not what the Constitution says, and it ignores the meaning of the word or: treason can be committed either by levying war or by acting in concert with an enemy to help that enemy attack the United States.

Without knowing about all the Trump team’s financial and other dealings with Russian officials, many of which are likely still to be discovered, it’s hard to say whether there was enough entanglement, symbiosis, and subversive conduct to rise to the level of treason. It would be absurd to conclude one way or the other at this point, but it is certainly not absurd, as talking-head thought police keep telling us, to discuss the possibility of treason and argue one side or the other. As long as we keep our focus on the standards discussed above, debate about the issue is both fair and healthy. File it under “civics 101” — the more we engage about constitutional issues, the better.

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The “Stand Your Ground” Defense Just Got Easier to Use in Florida

“If ‘stand-your-ground’ laws weren’t controversial enough, Florida has enacted new legislation (backed by the NRA) that has prosecutors fuming and criminal defense lawyers salivating. There was a time in American jurisprudential history when the law favored de-escalation over a more Wild-West approach to antagonistic interactions among humans.” – WMU-Cooley Professor Brendan Beery.

Listen to Professor Beery  in an interview with Bay News 9.

WMU-Cooley Professor Brendan Beery

So the rule used to be that, even if someone else was the aggressor, a person had a duty to retreat before using deadly force; if the person (the non-aggressor) exhausted all reasonable possibilities for escape and had no reasonable alternative, then (and only then) that person was justified in using deadly force. Note the word “reasonable” sprinkled through that rule: that’s an objective test, meaning that a person could only use deadly force in self-defense if a person of ordinary intelligence and temperament would have done the same. In other words, “I’m a hot head” was no defense.

There was a common-sense exception to this rule (this duty to retreat) called “the castle doctrine.” One had no duty to retreat in one’s own home – a burglar-beware sort of rule. After all, if one is already in one’s safest environment – one’s home – then where is one to retreat to?

As a Miami judge, Milton Hirsch, recently pointed out, the “stand-your ground” rule that has since been adopted by many states essentially expands the castle doctrine to apply everywhere; even in a public place, if one is not the aggressor in an affray, then one no longer has any duty to retreat. And that “reasonable person” standard has diminished to the point of near extinction. In other words, if a person fears that he or she is at risk of death or serious bodily harm at the hands of a perceived aggressor, regardless whether a person of normal intelligence and temperament would also harbor such fear, that person may use deadly force against the perceived aggressor. (Although one still sees the word “reasonable” in some of these stand-your-ground laws, it is now largely ignored.) De-escalation is decidedly not the policy objective underlying this new approach.

When Florida first adopted this “stand-your-ground” approach, the state’s Supreme Court created rules for its implementation: since this was a defense that would be raised by the defendant in a criminal case, when the defendant raised a stand-your-ground defense, a trial court would hold a pretrial hearing at which the defendant would have the burden of showing, by a mere preponderance of the evidence (just a slight tipping of the scales in the defendant’s favor) that he or she was in fear of death or great bodily harm – and therefore justified in using deadly force. To most lawyers, this seemed an entirely predictable and appropriate approach; the burden is almost always with the party raising a defense, and the relatively easy-to-meet preponderance standard made sense in light of the policy choice Floridians had made to render the use of deadly force an acceptable means for resolving a brawl, no matter where it occurs.

As forgiving as the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard is, pro-NRA conservatives were not satisfied. So the Florida legislature changed the rules earlier this year: now, instead of the defendant having to show by a preponderance of the evidence that he or she was entitled to use deadly force, the prosecutor must show by clear-and-convincing evidence that the defendant was not entitled to use deadly force. Not only has the legislature placed the burden on what lawyers call the “non-moving party” (i.e. the party arguing against the claim, not for it), but it also elevated that burden well above the preponderance standard, making it harder to meet.

The upshot is that, when a defendant raises the stand-your-ground defense, a prosecutor must put on his or her evidence twice: once to overcome the stand-your-ground defense at a pretrial hearing, and again in front of a jury or judge at trial. To make matters worse for prosecutors, they must also, at the pretrial hearing, essentially prove a negative: not that something did happen, but that something did not happen.

As my colleague Professor Jeffrey Swartz points out, this is a criminal defendant’s dream in any case where the defendant used deadly force – with a gun or without a gun – and there was no witness to the alleged crime. In such a case, a defendant who produces any evidence that he or she feared death or great bodily harm can put a prosecutor through the proverbial ringer: the prosecutor will have to show that the crime happened as the prosecutor said it happened – first by clear-and-convincing evidence, and then beyond a reasonable doubt.

Judge Hirsch has refused to apply the new rules shifting and increasing the burden of proof, stating that under the Florida Constitution, such procedural rules for resolving cases must be set by the Florida Supreme Court, not the Florida legislature. Other judges disagree. Ultimately, the Florida Supreme Court will have to address that issue. In the meantime, welcome to the Wild West.

WMU-Cooley Law Professor Brendan Beery

Blog author, Constitutional Law expert and WMU-Cooley Professor Brendan Beery  is a summa cum laude graduate of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School and teaches Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, and Criminal Procedure. Professor Beery is a frequent legal expert in the media.

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Supreme Court Sets Up a Travel-Ban Punt

WMU-Cooley Law Professor Brendan Beery

Blog author, Constitutional Law expert, and WMU-Cooley Professor Brendan Beery explains in layman’s terms what the Supreme Court’s preliminary order in the travel-ban case really means and who it will most immediately affect. Professor Beery, a summa cum laude graduate of the law school, teaches Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, and Criminal Procedure at WMU-Cooley Law School, and is a frequent legal expert in the media.

It’s all about the numbers – or the dates, to be precise. Lawyers, pundits, and prognosticators will do a deep dive into what the Supreme Court’s preliminary order in the travel-ban case (agreeing to hear the case in October and allowing the Trump Administration to partially implement the ban in the meantime) means about the Court’s view of the ban’s legality. But the discerning reader can see what the Court (per Chief Justice Roberts, in all likelihood) is really up to. The Court is wriggling out of having to address the ban’s legality in the first place.

The Court’s ruling was a mixed bag for people from the six banned countries wishing to enter the United States. The Court kept in place a lower-court injunction forbidding Trump Administration officials from excluding people with close family ties or legitimate business or educational concerns involving travel to the United States. The bad news for opponents of the travel ban is that, because the Supreme Court lifted the injunction on part of the ban, it will now operate to bar entry into the U.S. by anybody without family or business ties here. That impact is leavened, of course, by the reality that very few people without family or business ties to the U.S. wanted to come here anyway. (In other words, this is not the total victory that Donald Trump will likely represent it to be.)

The people most immediately and directly harmed by the Court’s order are would-be refugees. Refugee designation alone will no longer entitle refugees from the six affected countries to entry into the U.S. They too will have to show some kind of family or business interest to get around the travel ban.

But here’s the rub: the travel ban (contained in Section 2(c) of Trump’s executive order) has an expiration date built into it. Trump’s stated purpose for imposing the travel ban (which lower courts called pretextual) was to give the federal government time to analyze other countries’ immigration controls, make findings of fact, allow other countries to respond, and then adopt appropriate screening protocols for use by federal agencies. No lower-court order stopped the administration from doing any of that while the travel ban portion of the executive order was being litigated.

Since the supposed purpose of the travel ban was to buy time to study a problem and implement solutions, the ban was only to last 90 days “from the effective date” of Trump’s executive order. The original effective date was March 16, so the ban would have lapsed by mid-June. Once that date approached, however, Trump issued a new directive purporting to amend the effective date; he said that the new effective date would be 72 hours after the injunction against his travel ban (the one imposed by lower federal courts for the last few months) was lifted.

It’s not clear that the Supreme Court has bought into Trump’s new effective date; the Court, without any prompting, ordered the parties to the lawsuit to draft arguments about whether the legality of the travel ban became moot on June 14 – the date the ban was originally to expire. The justices must be considering, then, whether Trump’s attempt to extend the ban was valid.

But notwithstanding the question whether the extension was valid, the Court did today lift the injunction against the travel ban – at least in part. That means that the clock starts ticking on Trump’s new 90-day time period on Thursday morning – 72 hours after the injunction was lifted. The Court is set to hear arguments in the case in early October. By then, just over 90 days will have elapsed, meaning that even under Trump’s new timetable, the ban will have expired yet again.

Look where that leaves us: whether the ban’s legality was rendered moot when it was originally set to expire (June 14) or by the expiration of the new timeline (in late September), by the time October rolls around, the Court will be in a position to say that the administration has had ample time to get its act together as to screening immigrants, every conceivable deadline for ending the ban has passed, and the case is moot. This assumes, of course, that the wild card in all this – Donald Trump – doesn’t try to change the effective date again by October, or issue a new executive order altogether. If he does that, though, the Court will likely lose its patience with him.

By inviting the parties to address the mootness issue without prompting, the Court clearly signaled that it will use the issue of mootness to avoid having to address the merits of the case. One can see why the Court would do that: were it to rule on the merits, the Court would have to address whether the sitting President was behaving lawlessly and whether he was acting with animus in discriminating against Muslims. While those are fair subjects for public debate, the Supreme Court usually likes to stay out of such unseemly political fights. By giving each side in the fight half a win and running out the clock, the Supreme Court has signaled what it is likely to do on the merits of the travel ban: punt (and hope that Trump’s mischief-making in this regard is at an end).

Watch Brendan Beery’s Salon.com interview.

Listen to Professor Beery’s interview on the Tom Sumner Program (Interview starts at 6:58).

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Ontario Bar Association Interviews WMU-Cooley Professor Joseph Kimble for New Legal-Writing Series

The Ontario Bar Association recently interviewed Joseph Kimble, a distinguished professor emeritus at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, to kick off the first column of its new legal-writing series, titled “Choice Words.”

As part of the association’s legal magazine, JUST, “Choice Words” is a platform for legal writers to debate and educate one another about legal writing. In the interview, Kimble described good legal writing and why it matters, provided tips on how young lawyers can improve their writing, and addressed challenges that writers face.

When asked why plain language is needed in legal writing, Kimble responded, “Because lawyers think and write and speak for a living. And good communicators deliver their message as clearly and concisely and accurately as possible. That’s what plain language is all about.”

Kimble is the longtime editor of the “Plain Language” column in the Michigan Bar Journal and the senior editor of The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing, published by Scribes (the American Society of Legal Writers). Kimble has published dozens of articles on legal writing and written two acclaimed books—Lifting the Fog of Legalese: Essays on Plain Language and Writing for Dollars, Writing to Please: The Case for Plain Language in Business, Government, and Law.

Kimble joined WMU-Cooley in 1984. He is a past president of Clarity, an international organization promoting plain legal language in law, and a founding director of the Center for Plain Language, which rewards clear communication and shames “complex, confusing or just plain bad writing and the companies that produce them.”

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Conflict: Molding a workable resolution

For as long as I have been teaching, yet never when practicing law, I have pondered and lamented over the “5 to 4 Decisions of The Court.” We want to believe judges remove their personal feelings, emotions, proclivities and biases before donning the robes. We, as rational decision-makers, have the capacity to separate our emotions and arrive at rational choices. Yet, doing so is a constant battle within.  It often leads to a governing majority or a philosophical majority resulting in the 5 to 4 split – WMU-Cooley Center for the Study and Resolution of Conflict Director Graham Ward

WMU-Cooley Center for the Study and Resolution of Conflict

It leaves the law as certain as the life span of a single justice. It causes an uncomfortable uncertainty in predicting laws when the next case arrives for decision. It is a hindrance to those who attempt providing advice regarding long-term policy decisions. It polarizes the Court and generates social, economic and cultural conflict within the citizenry.

Can we propose either a better model or promote an understanding of the inherent value of the unanimous decision?

Judges on our Supreme Court do have the capacity to act as would the conservative, strict-constructionist might encourage, by narrowing the question presented to that upon which most, if not all can agree? Should the Court take those cases where a greater potential exists for that 5-4 vote rather than 9-0 or 8-1?

Two examples of effective use of a mandated unanimous decision – one quite old and the other in use today. 

First, a gift from The Roman Republic. The executive during that 500 year effort was composed of two counsel. Elected from the Senate and by the Senate, for a one year term, seldom extended for a second and hardly ever consecutively. A no vote of a counsel always overruled the yes of the other. The only exception was when they were on campaign and then the decider rotated from one day to the next. (Hannibal famously used his knowledge of that practice to present his army on a day when the impetuous counsel was in charge). It generated a status quo as well as supported change by insuring no minority report when both agreed to something new. With very few exceptions a consistency and collegial commitment was preserved.

Second, a two person arbitration with the mandated unanimous decision. Arbitration is becoming a favored approach to conflict resolution either by voluntary choice of the parties or broadened enforcement of arbitration clauses by the courts. Often these processes are conducted by a three person panel and with each party choosing their arbitrator and the third selected in a number of agreed upon ways. When a party chooses their arbitrator, it is often the case the arbitrator becomes an advocate in the decisional forum as does that of the other party. The neutral/third arbitrator can, and often is, in the uncomfortable position of looking for a resolution within a range of potential agreement, to generate a unanimous decision.  These advocate/arbitrators often will not agree and generate that unanimous decision. A unanimous decision is good in that it is harder for either party to argue they all got it wrong, including the arbitrator they selected. The decision is more likely to be complied with and where orders of the Court are not needed to insure enforcement.

Advocate arbitrators often force the neutral to threaten “baseball arbitration.”  

In such a case the frustrated neutral arbitrator will say, give me your best number (these are often in what we call distributive conflicts where the pie cannot be expanded or efforts to do so have been unsuccessful, unproductive) and I am going to choose one. That choice will make one party happy, though likely less so than they had hoped, and will disappoint the other.  Agreeing to a two person arbitration with the decision required to be unanimous, mandates the arbitrators fashion a result which both sign. By definition it recognizes the need to resolve within the zone of potential agreement which a neutral would suggest, the zone, not the decision itself, and allows those two arbitrators to use their skill, knowledge and experience to generate the result.

Is this something for learned, experienced attorneys to suggest when they have intransigent clients? When one client or both feel they are in that reasonable zone which their opponent is not? To generate a decision which as they know they are more right will be in their favor? Is it a way to avoid the potential loss of a “baseball arbitration” which can often be generated without their actual input? Is it a subtle or not so subtle unwritten, unspoken direction to the arbitrators to be reasonable when clients or even their attorneys might not so be? Could it produce the decision of the parties who, when confronted with the risk of being the looser in that “baseball arbitration,” often sharpen their pencils enough to get close enough to say “yes” and get together?  Is it something which implicitly creates a workable high-low agreement?

This is one more tool in the tool belt, for a specialized need project and to help mold a workable resolution. It can also help encourage parties to recognize the value of creative thinking about processes which are all too often fixed in our minds by the power of inertia or adherence to a status quo.

How do you deal with conflict? How has it worked for you? I would like to hear your solutions at wardl@cooley.edu.

WMU-Cooley Professor Graham WardBlog author Graham Ward is WMU-Cooley’s director of the Center for the Study and Resolution of Conflict. The program teaches participants how to improve the way they deal with conflicts by using new, creative tools and modify existing ones, creating the “ultimate due process,” as well as better ways of “Getting to Yes.”

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Librarians quiet and introverted? Think again! How to make staff in-service days fun and effective.

Spring is the time of year when many libraries are looking at the calendar and realizing that an annual staff in-service date is not too far off. As an organizer of dozens of in-services over the years, I can tell you there are some key components to making them fun, effective, informative, and interesting. Librarians need to wear their organizer hat to develop a program, but also a fun and creative hat! – Duane Strojny, WMU-Cooley Law School Associate Dean of Library & Instructional Support

WMU-Cooley Associate Dean of Library and Instructional Support Duane Strojny

In 2002 when we hosted an ABA inspection for our additional campuses across Michigan, I was asked “How will you develop a community with the library across multiple locations?” My quick answer was, “Of course we’ll have in-services and since we have three breaks a year, we’ll do one every break!” That began the long road of in-services that spanned the bridge of creative possibilities. We liked the Olympic theme so much we used it twice. There was the Survivor one, another based on TV Guide, a series of three in one year covering “Who, Why, and How,” and one dealing with employee wellness. Through it all, I would be remiss to say that I couldn’t have done it without a very creative associate director. We would hash out content and creative approaches to so many ideas (some of those listed above).

We have had guest speakers from a silver medal Olympian to the president of a national insurance company. Someone spoke to us about organizing our offices and someone spoke to us about how law school financial aid works. We gave presentations on our budget that actually included numbers. The IT Department visited a few times to give insight into technology. At our height, we would let people sign up for classes (three choices over three different hours of the day). That one was tough to coordinate, but I think most of the employees liked the variety.

In 2012, we added a campus in Florida, so our challenge was to bridge the gap between there and Michigan. During one of our in-services that year, we acknowledged the first day of a new Florida employee. There was a lot of video conferencing. During one in-service team-building exercise, each small group had an iPad or laptop so at least one member of their team was from Florida. Challenging, yes, but always interesting from an administrative perspective.

Here are some of the planning and implementation tips for that long litany of programming:

Start planning early.

We usually began discussing the next in-service a week or two after the last one finished. Since one occurred every four months, two to three months of planning seemed like a lot to us. We talked weekly so that helped speed up the timeline. Bring in others early, especially if you want them to help present or coordinate events the day of the event.

Think outside the box.

No topic or theme was too outrageous. We made towers out of marshmallows and spaghetti. I was taped to the wall. Teams had to do scavenger hunts. I constantly reminded staff the primary goal was to get to know your colleagues from across the campuses. If you learned something to take to your desk the next day, that was a plus.

Use either a place in the law school away from the library or go off campus. We often meet in our main classroom spaces. We used a movie theater. We volunteered at Toys for Tots (in multiple cities at the same time). We toured a local courthouse. A group went to Dave and Buster’s. If you have funding, there are a lot of options. If not, consider the meeting room at your local public library or the clubhouse of an apartment complex. The typical locations where kids have birthday parties can be very quiet on weekdays and provide the break from the usual workplace.

Plan to have an icebreaker.

A lot of people don’t like these, but they do help set the tone for the day. This isn’t an ordinary work day. We want staff to interact in a different way. I like The New Encyclopedia of Icebreakers and The Encyclopedia of Group Activities. There are a lot of others as well as quite a few websites with ideas to be had for free.
Have some substantive content. Presenting information is important even if the topic doesn’t appeal to everyone. This can help pull together a theme or push an agenda item. We had someone speak about our new Professionalism Program and the library staff became the first group on campus to endorse it as a department. Our discussion about how a prospective student is recruited and enrolled gave everyone a great perspective of what happens in Admissions. The take away doesn’t need to be something to use at your desk, but rather helps give a greater perspective of how the school operates and the mission we serve.

Use experts at the law school or university.

Our law school president spoke. Our vice president of finance spoke. A faculty member led staff through a mock class. The career services director spoke. The chairman of our board spoke. The founder of our law school spoke. We had great speakers with little cost other than a meal. This creates a great sense of camaraderie between library staff and other departments at the school.

Seek feedback.

We always had evaluations. Of course, we never please everyone. The criticism of food drove me crazy, so we eventually took that off the evaluations. Hey, it was a free meal and we always had options that could accommodate every possible need. We also provided snacks galore during the course of the day. Plenty of fruit and yogurt, as well as the usual cookies and brownies appeals to everyone. Some people regularly said it was a waste of their time. They were busy. Remember, though, what your goal is: building community is number one. You want to be successful so evaluations help you learn from missteps.

With some thought and planning, an in-service can be a very useful event. Involving others in the planning can also give the person you least expect to lead an opportunity to shine. We have assigned tasks to groups, assigned tasks to individuals, and asked for volunteers. All approaches have worked well with the caveat that you cannot please everyone. When our staff was nearly 100 people, it was quite an undertaking. We invited permanent part-time staff, part-time reference librarians, and often, student employees. Now that we are a smaller group and our associate director has left, I have been forced to rethink the in-service concept. In the past we had special department in-services, librarian in-services, support staff in-services, and optional in-services. Today, with less staff, it is still important to have a goal when planning for an in-service. For me, that has not changed; build community by getting to know your colleagues and hopefully take something back to your desk for tomorrow.

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