Category Archives: Knowledge

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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Stigma Biggest Barrier: Mich. Lt. Gov. Calley Discusses State’s Mental Health Issues

“Stigma is still the biggest barrier that we have. It’s a barrier to living, getting out there and living life and being a part of the world because sometimes behaviors aren’t what we would consider to be normal or typical, and the weight of just being a part of the world in that situation can be enough to cause people to retreat.” – Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley

Lt. Gov. Calley recently joined community leaders from a variety of backgrounds including law, healthcare, courts, non-profit and corrections during WMU-Cooley Law Review’s Annual Symposium. The panel discussed the challenges present in Michigan’s system for treating and addressing mental health issues, developmental disabilities, and substance abuse, and what needs to happen to improve care and access to care. Calley raised concern about stigmas against persons with mental health, development disabilities, and substance abuse problems and the barriers that lack of acceptance present to every person’s right to experience a full life.

Calley began his remarks on a personal level, sharing his own daughter’s early autism diagnosis and the challenges he and his family faced in securing necessary treatment and services on her behalf. He said, “My experience with my daughter was one that really opened my eyes to just how the world works for people with disabilities. The conclusion that I came to at that point was that, if it was this difficult for somebody as well connected as I am to make all the things happen that need to happen, then the average person might have no chance at all.”

Michigan Lieutenant Governor Brian Calley speaks about mental health issues facing the state during WMU-Cooley’s Annual Law Review Symposium.

Because of his personal experiences, Calley said he became committed to advocating for change and improvement to Michigan’s health care system to better meet the needs of vulnerable populations. He has gone on to chair numerous work groups, think tanks, and boards, bringing all the necessary stakeholders to the table to discuss and propose necessary reforms, and effective management of healthcare funding for these important categories of care. Some of this work culminated in two final reports submitted to the Michigan legislature in January.

The panelists discussed and agreed that there is a negative impact and public prejudices against the disabled. They also spoke about the need for more sensitivity, understanding, and empathy towards these persons, who, if given the necessary support and opportunity, can successfully manage and overcome their challenges and live meaningful and productive lives.

Other panelists included Milton L. Mack, Jr., State Court Administrator and former Chief Judge of the Wayne County Probate Court; Corrections Major Sam Davis, Jail Administrator, Ingham County Sheriff’s Department; Mark Reinstein, President & CEO, Mental Health Association of Michigan;  Lauren Rousseau: Associate Professor of Law, WMU-Cooley Law School; and  Beverly Griffor, managing partner, Collis & Griffor, P.C.

Major Sam Davis of the Ingham Sheriff’s Department talks about incarceration rates of individuals suffering from mental illness.

Panelists pictured (seated, left –right) Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley; Major Sam Davis, Ingham County Sheriff’s Department; Beverly Griffor, managing partner, Collis & Griffor, P.C.; Milton L. Mack, Jr., court administrator for the Michigan Supreme Court; and Mark Reinstein, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Michigan.

Panelists pictured (seated, left –right) Michigan Lt. Gov. Brian Calley; Major Sam Davis, Ingham County Sheriff’s Department; Beverly Griffor, managing partner, Collis & Griffor, P.C.; Milton L. Mack, Jr., court administrator for the Michigan Supreme Court; and Mark Reinstein, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Michigan.

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Distinguished Student and Leadership Awards Presented at Convocation

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

Peter Mancini and Dr. Ryan McKennon received the Distinguished Student Award for their academic success, participation and leadership in student organizations, professionalism and service to the community.

The recipients of the Leadership Achievement Award were Monica Carson, Deirdre Armstrong, and Brandon Ferguson. The award acknowledges students who have consistently, comprehensively and effectively provided leadership in a variety of capacities.

Peter Mancini receives the Distinguished Student Award.

Dr. Ryan McKennon receives the Distinguished Student Award.

Left-right: Leadership Achievement Award recipients Monica Carson, Deirdre Armstrong, Brandon Ferguson.

 

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Preparing for the Multistate Bar Exam Just Got A Little Easier For Law Students

Preparing for and passing the bar exam is no easy task. Professors at WMU-Cooley Law School now have something new to help students do well on the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), a 200-question multiple-choice exam given in nearly every state.

“We take great pride in our students here at our Grand Rapids campus and how they have done on the Bar exam,” stated Associate Dean Nelson Miller, who leads that campus and its Bar Exam preparation. “We especially want every single student and graduate to do well on the Multistate Bar Examination component,” he asserts, “because comprehensive law knowledge is instrumental to practice success.”

To that end, Dean Miller and colleagues have recently published three new books on preparing for the Multistate Bar Examination. Volume I in the series offers four 100-question banks of specially designed practice questions, mixing all seven MBE subjects into each bank, just like the exam itself. The second volume offers seven 100-question banks separating each of the seven MBE subjects into its own bank, so that readers can practice each subject.

Beyond offering hundreds of new practice questions with answers and explanations for why each option is correct or incorrect, these two volumes have added value by being crafted in the same style as the MBE questions that test every topic and subtopic on the MBE.

“The examiners who draft the MBE publish a list of the exam’s roughly 350 topics,” explained Miller. “We figured, why not test every topic?”

In fact, the two volumes test every topic at least twice, keying each question, answer, and explanation to the MBE topics list. Those preparing for the MBE can now practice questions on every topic or on any topic on which they feel they need a test.

The effort didn’t stop there, though. Dean Miller explains, “In writing the hundreds of answer explanations, I realized that examinees might also benefit from a concise summary of the law on every MBE topic.”

So, the third volume in the series provides a summary page on each of the MBE’s approximately 350 topics.

“Law school, bar none, is the greatest intellectual exercise anyone can endeavor,” Miller contends. “Preparing for the Multistate Bar Examination is an extraordinary accomplishment and privilege. Anyone who does, deserves all of our support.”

The three legal preparation book volumes are available online at amazon.com and free in electronic form to any WMU-Cooley student or graduate.


Preparing for the multistate bar exam vol. 1Preparing for the Multistate Bar Examination: Multiple-Choice Strategies and Multiple-Choice Questions, Answers, and Explanations for Every MBE Topic and Subtopic (Volume I: All Subjects) (Crown Mgt. 2017) (authors Nelson P. Miller and Tonya Krause-Phelan);


preparing for the multistate bar exam vol. 2Preparing for the Multistate Bar Examination: Multiple-Choice Strategies and Multiple-Choice Questions, Answers, and Explanations for Every MBE Topic and Subtopic (Volume II: The MBE Subjects Separated Into Seven 100-Question Banks) (Crown Mgt. 2017) (authors Nelson P. Miller and Tonya Krause-Phelan);


Preparing for the multistate bar exam vol. 3Preparing for the Multistate Bar Examination, Volume III: An Outline of Every MBE Topic and Subtopic (Crown Mgt. 2017) (author Nelson P. Miller).


Are you prepared to take the MBE? Make sure you give yourself every advantage!

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Contracts quintessential first-year course: Law school professor makes his case

WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Otto StockmeyerBlog author WMU-Cooley Distinguished Professor Emeritus Otto Stockmeyer presented a paper at the 2017 annual conference of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts & Letters, held March 10, 2017, on the campus of Western Michigan University. He titled his presentation “Reflections on Teaching the First Day of Contracts Class.” Professor Stockmeyer offered his thoughts on why he believes Contracts is the most significant course in the first-year curriculum, why the study of contract law should begin with the subject of remedies, and why Hawkins v. McGee (the “hairy hand” case made famous by the book and movie versions of The Paper Chase) makes an ideal starting point.

In my view, Contracts is the quintessential first-year course. It presents an excellent introduction to the common law and legal reasoning. The course is foundational to several upper-level courses, and the best predictor of law school success.  Lawyers have reported that they use Contracts in their practice almost twice as much as any other law school subject.

Although traditionalists begin the course with offer and acceptance, there are both pedagogical and practical reasons to start with remedies. Studying remedies is not easy going for beginning students, who tend to hate working with numbers. But they tell me that they like difficult topics placed early in the term so they have longer to process the material.

The most important reason to start with remedies is the opportunity to begin the first day’s class with Hawkins v. McGee.

Here are my Top Ten reasons why:

10. The opinion immediately demonstrates to beginning students their need for a law dictionary. The first paragraph alone contains five legal terms.

9. The opinion shows how judges sometimes load their opinions with empty overstatements, such as “clearly” and “obviously” when the facts were neither.

8. The opinion demonstrates the process of analysis that courts employ when direct legal authority is lacking.

7. The opinion allows an early exploration of some distinctions between tort (medical malpractice) and contract (promise of 100 percent success) in a context readily understood by beginning students.

6. The opinion revolves around two of the central themes in Contract law: the objective theory of assent and the expectation objective of contract remedies.

5. The opinion is an excellent introduction to remedies and the difference between tort and contract damages.

4. The opinion illustrates that general principles are easier to state than to apply.

3. The opinion has more poignancy than the commercial disputes that will follow.

2. The case has a rich subsequent history that can be explored as time permits.

1. Three words: The Paper Chase. Many students will have read the book or rented the movie. They expect Contracts to begin with a study of the “hairy hand” case. Disappoint them the first day and they may question their choice of law schools.

The Paper Chase

The movie version of this law school classic contains two scenes that I’ve used in my class. The first is Professor Kingsfield’s ‘skull full of mush’ explanation of why law schools use the Socratic method. That needs to be addressed the first day.

The second is Kingsfield’s encounter with a student, Mr. Hart. After recapping the facts of Hawkins v. McGee, Kingsfield asks, ‘Now Mr. Hart, what sort of damages do you think the doctor should pay?’

I then would call on several students and ask whether Mr. Hart gave the right answer (no, he didn’t). The ice having been broken, another term of Contracts has been successfully launched.

Read the full text of Professor Stockmeyer’s paper on the Social Science Research Network.

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So, You Want to Be a Criminal Lawyer? Seven Things Your Law School Should Offer

krause-phelan_tonyaBlog author WMU-Cooley Law School Auxiliary Dean and Professor Tonya Krause-Phelan teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Defending Battered Women, Criminal Sentencing, and Ethics in Criminal Cases. She coaches national mock trial and moot court teams with the West Michigan Defenders Clinic and frequently appears as a commentator on numerous radio, television, print, and internet media sources regarding criminal law and procedure issues.

When I attended law school in the late ’80s, becoming a criminal practitioner was probably the least desired career choice a law student could make. At that time, many law students, law professors, and practitioners alike thought that the only people who would “settle” for a job as a public defender or as a prosecutor were those who could not get a job with a mega-firm or as in-house counsel for a Fortune 500 company.

Because I knew when I went to law school I wanted to be a public defender, I followed my passion instead of conventional wisdom. I was fortunate enough to land a job right out of law school as a public defender.  Eventually, I went into private practice, where I specialized in criminal defense. But, I never gave up my passion for indigent defense, and as a result, I continued to accept court-appointed cases. Throughout my many years of practice, criminal practitioners continued to be viewed as a sub-category of lawyers.

But, nothing could be further from the truth. Criminal practitioners are some of the most passionate, dedicated, and talented lawyers in the profession. After all, practicing in the area of criminal law is not for the faint of heart; it is one of the most demanding, challenging, and specialized areas of practice with clients’ lives and liberty literally hanging in the balance. With everything known today about DNA exoneration cases, mistaken identification cases, police shootings, and other systemic and ethical challenges facing the criminal justice system, people have changed their minds about public defenders, criminal defense lawyers, and prosecutors. Today people are actually deciding to attend law school for the specific purpose of becoming a criminal practitioner.

For those who want to become a criminal practitioner, they should look for a law school that does everything possible to adequately prepare its students for the rigors of a criminal practice. Whether a law school advertises itself as a “practice ready” school or not, several factors foretell a school’s pledge to preparing its students for criminal practice. Prospective law students interested in practicing criminal law should consider the following factors:

  1. Experienced Faculty: Professors who have practiced in the field are uniquely qualified to provide students with a practical context in which to learn substantive criminal law. Learn whether the professors who teach Criminal Law and Procedure practiced criminal law prior to becoming full-time faculty members.  Also, determine whether the school’s adjunct faculty are criminal practitioners. By hiring criminal law practitioners to serve as adjunct faculty, a law school demonstrates its dedication to keeping its curriculum current and relevant.
  2. Criminal Law-based Clinics: Ensure the law school hosts a clinic that focuses on criminal law, usually public defender or prosecutor clinics. Because many states allow students to work under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney, this type of clinical experience provides students with the ability to apply the knowledge and skills they have learned in the classroom to real-life, real-time clients.
  3. Innocence Project: Several law schools run Innocence Project programs. In these programs students have the responsibility to investigate and process cases for individuals who have been wrongfully convicted. Nothing speaks louder about a law school’s commitment to the efficacy of the criminal justice system than its commitment to representing individuals who should not have been convicted and need assistance in gaining their freedom.
  4. A Strong Skills-based Program: Law schools that are committed to developing strong criminal practitioners will also have a strong skills-based program. Look at the classes the law school requires students to complete. A curriculum that requires several research and writing, trial and appellate advocacy, and other skills-based courses demonstrates that the school is preparing its students for practice.
  5. Community Collaboration and Engagement: Look to see if the law school regularly engages with community organizations and events.   By hosting and participating in events that foster interaction with community organizations, local leaders, and members of the criminal justice system, a law school demonstrates a strong responsibility to fostering and improving an ethical and dedicated criminal justice system.  Look to see if the law school has hosted or participated in round-table and panel discussions, town hall-style meetings, and lecture series that include such people as police officers, judges, criminal practitioners, and experts within the criminal justice system.
  6. Proximity to Local Courthouses, Legal Community, and Organizations: If a law school is close to courthouses, law firms, and other legal entities, law students will more likely augment their educational opportunities by visiting local courthouse, watching trials and other legal proceedings, connect with members of the bar, and become student members of local bar organizations, events, and public service opportunities.  Observing how lawyers conduct cases helps students develop their own skills.
  7. Strong Alumni Base: Finally, many law schools provide prospective students with a list of alumni. Ask the law school to provide you with a list of alumni who are practicing criminal law and contact them. Not only can alumni answer questions about practicing criminal law, they can discuss whether the school adequately prepared them for criminal practice.  Ask their advice regarding which elective classes to take, clinics or externships to apply for, and which extra-curricular activities most adequately prepared them for criminal practice.

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Law Profs Offer Students a Dozen Guide Books

Law school is a transformative experience; a once-in-a-lifetime privilege to acquire hugely useful knowledge and skills. It also isn’t easy. To help students navigate the law curriculum for the best effect, and graduates enter fruitful careers, law professors gathered to write a dozen guide books.

books

Law professors are scholars. Yet they can also devote their writings to helping students and graduates where most needed.

For example, the first book Going to Law School: Preparing for a Transformative Experience helps students confirm their interest in law school, choose a school, and then prepare for the best start. A Law Graduate’s Guide: Navigating Law School’s Hidden Career & Professional-Development Curriculum then shows students how to shape their studies to connect with law careers.

Dear J.D.: What to Do with Your Law Degree helps students choose a practice field and law or law-related career. Preparing for the Bar Exam: A Comprehensive Guide to Plans, Programs, Content, Conditions, & Skills helps students and graduates pass the bar exam. How to Get a J-O-B: An Eight-Step Program for Lawyer Employment helps graduates with their job search.

Entrepreneurial Practice: Enterprise Skills for Lawyers Serving Emerging Client Populations shows graduates how to develop a law practice of their own, while Are You Legal? A Personal Legal Audit & Empowerment Tool shows graduates how to audit a client’s matters for opportunities to provide helpful law services.

How to Build a Practice with Pro Bono shows graduates how to help 10 disadvantaged populations, while Cross-Cultural Law Service: A Framework for a Lawyer’s Professional Skill shows graduates how to provide services to disadvantaged populations. Lawyer Finances: Principles & Practices for Personal & Professional Financial Success shows students and graduates how to manage finances as a lawyer and in a law firm.

Top 100 Questions Friends & Family Ask a Lawyer shows students and graduates how to answer the curious law questions of a family member or friend. And finally, The Faithful Lawyer: Flourishing from Law Study to Practice shows students and graduates how to integrate faith for a sound and balanced professional career.

Most of these books are free to students in online form. Professors also give away print copies, or anyone can order them online. While most of the books are priced at cost, professors donate any proceeds to the law school’s scholarship fund.

books

These resources, a decade in the making, show just how committed law professors can be to student success, not just in the classroom, but also outside the classroom in academic advising and career support.

nelson millerBlog author Nelson Miller is the Associate Dean and Professor at WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus. He practiced civil litigation for 16 years before joining the WMU-Cooley faculty. He has argued cases before the Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan Court of Appeals, and United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and filed amicus and party briefs in the United States Supreme Court. He has has many published books, casebooks, book chapters, book reviews, and articles on legal education, law practice, torts, civil procedure, professional responsibility, damages, international law, constitutional law, university law, bioethics, and law history and philosophy. He also teaches law classes on the Kalamazoo, Michigan campus of Western Michigan University.

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