Category Archives: Knowledge, Skills, Ethics

Cooley stresses legal knowledge, practice skills, and professional ethics, an approach that is the latest trend in legal education and new to most law schools, but has been in place at Cooley since its founding in 1972.
Knowledge: Master the substantive knowledge required for passage of the bar examination and admission to the bar.
Skills: Master the basic fundamentals required for the competent practice of law and representation of clients.
Ethics: Understand and embrace the legal, moral, ethical, and professional responsibilities of lawyers.

WMU-Cooley Law School Holds Honors Convocation in Auburn Hills

On Thursday, July 13, 2017, WMU-Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills campus held its Honors Convocation recognizing students for top course grades, Dean’s List, Honor Roll, and leadership and skills competition achievements.

The recipients of the Leadership Achievement Award were Eric Langton and Erika Morgan. The award acknowledges students who have consistently, comprehensively and effectively provided leadership in a variety of capacities.

Leadership Award winners

Leadership Achievement Award recipients Erika Morgan and Eric Langton hold the awards during WMU-Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills Honors Convocation on July 13.

During the event, WMU-Cooley Associate Professor Frank Aiello was presented the Distinguished Faculty Award.

Aiello, who presented the evening’s keynote, spoke to students, staff and faculty about what he has learned over the years, and reflected on the intersection of his personal and work life. He offered what he referred to as “quasi-wisdom,” encouraging students to be kind, speak less, listen more and utilize their strengths.

“Having now taught here for almost 12 years, I have the pleasure of observing many incredible WMU-Cooley alumni who are doing amazing things — lead counsel to the police and fire unions in the Detroit bankruptcy, representing famous Detroit musical artists, working on behalf of the disadvantaged at legal aid organizations, incredible prosecutors and defense attorneys and wildly successful civil litigators,” Aiello said. “I am humbled by the accomplishments of my former students and can’t wait to see what you do.”

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Lynn Helland Honored with WMU-Cooley Law School’s Integrity Award

Lynn Helland, executive director of the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission was the featured speaker and Integrity Award recipient during the “Integrity in Our Community” speaker series at the WMU-Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills campus, July 14, 2017. The Integrity Award is presented to legal professionals who demonstrate the highest integrity in their profession. The event was co-hosted by the law school’s newest student organization, the Society for Personal and Professional Integrity.

Speakers at Integrity event

Pictured (left-right) Patrick Corbett, assistant U.S. attorney and WMU-Cooley Law School visiting professor; Joan Vestrand, WMU-Cooley Law School associate dean; Lynn Helland, executive director of the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission; and Alan Gershel, attorney grievance administrator during the “Integrity in our Community” speaker series at the WMU-Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills campus on July 14.

Alan Gershel, past recipient of the Integrity Award, former U.S. attorney  and current Michigan attorney  grievance administrator, who worked with Helland on a number of cases while each were employed by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, provided Helland’s introductory remarks.

“We often said that a measure of a prosecutor’s integrity is not what he or she does in public, in a courtroom, when people are watching, when it’s easy to make the right decision,” said Gershel. “The more difficult times really occur when no one is looking, when the lights are not on, so to speak. Lynn was the gold standard. He led by example. He always did the right thing.”

Integrity Award winner

Lynn Helland, executive director of the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, was the featured speaker and received the Integrity Award during WMU-Cooley Law School’s “Integrity in Our Community” speaker series on July 14 at the law school’s Auburn Hills campus.

Helland’s presentation was on the topic of personal integrity, and spoke about how individual integrity can influence the community at large.

“None of us think that our integrity is responsible for that overall level of national trust, but it is. Each contribution we make, for better or for worse, has an impact on the whole,” Helland said.

Helland identified and discussed two types of integrity: moral integrity and integrity of thought. He spoke of the importance of remaining objective and honest. He also emphasized the challenges of having integrity, citing brain research that he said shows people are wired so that they handle information that undercuts their beliefs by disregarding or discounting that information.

“For the good of all our communities, I encourage all of us to embrace both moral integrity and thinking integrity. We all want to do that, you already said that, but I encourage you also to recognize how hard it is, and to embrace how hard it is and to try to work through how hard it is,” Helland said.

Group at integrity event

Pictured (left-right) Helen Khouli, president of the Society for Personal and Professional Integrity; Lynn Helland, executive director of the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission; and Alan Gershel, attorney grievance administrator during the “Integrity in our Community” speaker series at the WMU-Cooley Law School’s Auburn Hills campus on July 14.

Before Helland was appointed to serve as executive director of the Michigan Judicial Tenure Commission, he served as assistant United States attorney. Helland has significant experience with Michigan legal ethics as a professional responsibility officer, discipline hearing panelist and ethics instructor. He has been responsible for helping colleagues comply with the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct.

During Helland’s 34 years as a federal prosecutor, he was assigned to complex crimes involving public corruption, health care fraud, national security and civil rights. He has investigated complex economic, environmental and non-drug money laundering crimes. In addition, he has worked internationally within legal systems to obtain documents and/or testimony for prosecution of complex economic crimes. Helland also served as senior legal adviser for the United States Embassy, Kabul, Afghanistan.

Helland served as law clerk to the Honorable Cornelia Kennedy, who was on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. His community involvement includes serving as a board member for Save the Afghan Children, a charity that supports a girls’ orphanage and school in Kabul, Afghanistan; was a board member for Veahavta, a charity that supports a girls’ orphanage in Trincomalee, Sri Lanka; served as a board member and president, Parent’s Association, Oak Trails Montessori School; and has participated in humanitarian trips to Sri Lanka and Haiti.

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Graduate Aaron Sohaski: WMU-Cooley Law School felt the most like home for me

My first year of law school, I actually didn’t spend at WMU-Cooley. I was at another law school out of state, and while I had a good experience there, it wasn’t the educational outcome that I had desired. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. It was disheartening because I usually consider myself a very wise consumer. After my first year there, I had to re-evaluate. This was the first time in my educational career that I had to look again at a school. I know that attending WMU-Cooley was ultimately the happiest decision I could have made. – WMU-Cooley 2016 graduate Aaron Sohaski

I started looking at law schools in the Detroit Metro region because I was offered and took a full-time job there. It was a wonderful opportunity to return to the area. I ultimately decided to transfer to WMU-Cooley Law School. It felt the most like home for me. It felt grounded. I could see that the professors really cared about the students. And the honors scholarship also made it the right economical decision for me.

WMU-Cooley graduate Aaron Sohaski, Lansing campus

Once classes started, and despite coming in a little scared as a transfer student, I felt ingratiated and part of my class right from the get go. As a non-traditional student, I appreciated that there were a lot of other students who also worked full time. It was a refreshing change from where I previously came from. Most of the students were enrolled full-time, just coming out of undergrad, and had no previous work experience. It was different at WMU-Cooley. While there are plenty of traditional students, there were also many students like me.  I especially admired those second career students who balanced work and family while going to law school. It was inspiring.

My time at WMU-Cooley was highly punctuated by strong relationships with my professors. If I ever had a question after class, I knew that I could contact a professor at any time. They were dedicated about their career and their tenure as a professor. What really set them apart from any other professor I had was the fact that many of the professors were working professionals, with many years of practice experience. I knew going into a Contracts II class, for instance, I would hear war stories about something that was going on now and was relevant to the class. That’s how I personally learn the law best – through those examples. I would take a professor’s teachable moment in the classroom and apply them to my life – learning how not to make the same mistakes.

WMU-Cooley graduate Aaron Sohaski, Lansing campus

The professors also understood that people had lives and believed in the law school’s mission of giving students practical skills and experience. Despite my work and law school schedule, I was able to still participate in the estate planning clinic for two semesters. What a wonderful experience. The professors encouraged me to try different things and to ask questions –  to reach outside the box. Professors supported you every step of the way.

I’ve always been somebody who wants to take on forms of leadership in my life, so I immediately became involved during law school. There are so many different organizations, plus tons of opportunities to be involved in your local or state bar associations. The law school really encourages that kind of involvement. And I am still very involved as first-year attorney, including being a member of the Detroit Bar Association, Inns of Court, New Lawyer’s Council for the Oakland County Bar Association, and the State Bar of Michigan Young Lawyers Section Executive Council.

My sense is that WMU-Cooley students have a confidence, and they aren’t afraid to venture into anything. And do it at 110 percent, as do all the professors. WMU-Cooley imparted in me to be a lifelong learner. I use my law degree every single day.

It amazes me how many WMU-Cooley grads are involved in organizations and pro bono work.  And it’s not just in Michigan. I’ve met fellow graduates in New York, Florida, California,  just about everywhere. We touch all corners of the United States. It makes me proud to be a part of the WMU-Cooley network.

WMU-Cooley graduate Aaron Sohaski

Aaron Sohaski is a January 2016 graduate of WMU-Cooley Law School. He works for the Henry Ford Health System as an attorney focusing on regulatory compliance and regulatory affairs within the health system. He enjoys learning the ever-changing new healthcare laws and regulations, and focuses on contracts and business association agreements, third party payer agreements, and works directly with others across the healthcare system. Henry Ford is the fifth largest employer in the city of Detroit with over 28,000 employees.

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WMU-Cooley Holds Inaugural Initiation Ceremony for Newest Chapter of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity International

On May 26, an official chartering and inaugural initiation ceremony was held for Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity International’s newest chapter, the Janet Reno Chapter of Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s Tampa Bay campus. Phi Alpha Delta Law is a professional law fraternity aimed at advancing integrity, compassion and courage through service to the student, the school, the profession and the community.

Phi Alpha Delta’s District XXXII Justice Jason Harber swore in the officers of the new chapter: Sheila Lake, justice; Kimberly Pinder, vice justice; Christine Simon, clerk; Stuart Bowes, treasurer; Brian Rubright, marshal; Lashawn McQueen, parliamentarian; and Amanda Martinez, constable.

Janet Reno Chapter Justice Lake initiated all other new members in attendance, which included  Robert Johnson, Danny Torres, Jenanah Amatullah-Muqsit, Dremma Sweetwine, Carla Walters, Devan Hardaway, Ayana Clark and Iris Weller. Those who were unable to attend the ceremony will be initiated later this term with the rest of the newest members of the fraternity. Those individuals include Sabrina Franco, Ebony Smith, Amir Behreini, Lauren Pack, Rebecca McCall and Katherine Semone.

More than 15 initiates were sworn into the new Janet Reno Chapter of Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity during the official chartering and inaugural initiation ceremony on Friday, May 26 at WMU-Cooley Law School’s Tampa Bay campus.

On May 26, WMU-Cooley Law School’s Tampa Bay campus held an official chartering and inaugural initiation ceremony for Phi Alpha Delta Law Fraternity International’s newest chapter, the Janet Reno Chapter.

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WMU-Cooley Law School Holds Annual MentorJet Networking Program

On Wednesday, June 7, 2017, Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, Auburn Hills campus, held its annual MentorJet  program co-sponsored with the National Association of Women Judges, matching law students with leading lawyers and judges to learn about law practice and job opportunities.

On June 7, Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, Auburn Hills campus, held its annual MentorJet program, a speed networking event matching law students with leading lawyers and judges to learn about law practice and job opportunities.

The speed networking event was hosted by NAWJ District 7 Director, the Hon. Michelle M. Rick (29th Circuit Court), the WMU-Cooley Law School Career and Professional Development Department, the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan (Auburn Hills Student Chapter), the Jewish Law Students Association and the Shirin Ebadi House Council.

“We are so thankful to Judge Rick and all the attorneys and judges who volunteered their time for this important program” said Shari Lesnick, WMU-Cooley Law School Career and Professional Development coordinator. “Their support, combined with our ongoing collaboration with the National Association of Women Judges, helped make this year’s event successful.”

Front row (left-right): Hon. Edward Sosnick (ret.), Hertz Schram, P.C.; Hon. Denise Langford Morris, Oakland County Circuit Court; Hon. Carmen Fahie, Administrative Law Judge, State of Michigan Licensing & Regulatory Affairs; Hon. Cynthia M. Arvant, 46th District Court; Hon. Bari Blake Wood, Magistrate Judge 36th District Court. Middle row (left-right): Rebecca L. Wilson, The Dobrusin Law Firm, P.C.; Samantha Jolene Orvis, Garan Lucow, PC; Shannon C. King, The Miller Law Firm; Lyndsey Kitson, Sullivan, Ward Asher & Patton; Ben C. Lesnick, Olsman, MacKenzie & Wallace; Katherine M. Pacynski, The Dobrusin Law Firm; Choi T. Portis, City of Detroit Department of Water and Sewerage. Back row (left-right): John Cipriani, United States Drug Enforcement Administration; Yolanda Bennett, Michigan Board of Water and Light; Michael N. Hanna, Morgan & Morgan; Bryant M. Frank, Soave Enterprises, LLC; Barry Malone, Lakeshore Legal Aid; Vassal N. Johnson II, Law Offices of Vassal N. John PLLC.; Kwame Rowe, Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office.

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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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Storytelling Is a Lawyer’s Craft

“Law cases can be very much like stories, involving principal characters, their conflict, and conflict resolution – all within a story line or plot.  Lawyers, like authors, must also be skilled at projecting the characters’ motivations, personality, and interests, while discerning how the audience will respond to differing perspectives, styles, and voice.” – WMU-Cooley Professor and Lawyer Storytelling Workshop Panelist David Tarrien.

WMU-Cooley Lawyer Storytelling Workshop

The law school’s Grand Rapids campus invites law students, attorneys and community to participate in its summer Lawyer Storytelling Workshop. The workshops help participants write law-related fiction as a way to hone their storytelling craft.

Workshop panelist Anna Rapa, who defends indigent clients against federal criminal charges, called telling her clients’ stories a “sacred task.”  Rapa added that she must work hard to find fresh and evocative ways to “depict the client’s humanity” and show clients as “worthy of redemption” in what is too often a dehumanizing criminal justice system.

Panelist Bill Jack, managing partner of the statewide law firm Smith Haughey, agreed that storytelling must be an effective trial lawyer’s skill and art.  Both Rapa and Jack have authored and published fiction as a way to hone their storytelling art.  “Write for yourself,” Jack urged, adding, “Your first novel is autobiographical.”

Panelist Matt Levin is a student at the Grand Rapids campus and already a skilled storyteller with two published novels, a literary agent, and many published short stories.  Levin agreed that while writing and promoting a bestseller would be tremendously rewarding, and he was glad when his writing did well, ultimately the greater value is in how the process shapes the writer.

Panelist Tonya Krause-Phelan, a professor and dean at the campus who in her former law practice successfully defended a mother charged with the murder of her infant, shared her own commitment to compelling advocacy through these communication arts.  Trial lawyers must somehow recreate for jurors scenes of real events, in ways that help jurors make critical judgments.

Workshop participants are each writing their own short story this summer for publication in a book of their collected works.  Six students are earning academic credit, treating the workshops as a Directed Study course with faculty supervision, while other participants are taking part just to learn more of the storytelling art.

The first workshop addresses the reasons and inspiration for writing, and selection of character, conflict, and resolution.  The second workshop addresses development of story and theme, and editing. The third workshop addresses publication issues.  Associate Dean Nelson Miller, publisher of 36 books on law and related subjects, organized and moderates the series.

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