Category Archives: The Value of a Legal Education

Highlights the value and benefits of a legal education at Cooley Law School. Cooley’s rigorous program of legal instruction taught by experienced practitioners equips its students with the knowledge, skills, and ethics needed to practice law competently and effectively.

Immigration vocation: Law grad who came to U.S. as a child from Guatemala plans to help others

Luis Vasquez came to the United States from Guatemala at the age of 9, after his widowed mother brought her family to join her sister in Waco, Texas. “My mother made the difficult decision to move here three years after my dad passed away from an automobile accident,” says Vasquez, a recent graduate from Western Michigan University Cooley Law School.

Luis Vasquez runs with the bulls in Pamplona during his WMU-Cooley study abroad

Luis Vasquez runs with the bulls in Pamplona during his WMU-Cooley study abroad

Life wasn’t easy for the youngster, who was enrolled in an English as Second Language program as a fourth-grader in his first year of school in Texas.

“It was hard to transition at first,” he says. “It was hard for my mother trying to raise three kids on her own. I had to be the role model for my sisters. “My mother always reminded me of her sacrifice to come to this country and all she asked of us was to further our education.”

Overcoming those early struggles, Vasquez earned an associate’s degree at a local community college, paying his way with a job as a dishwasher and later as a server, as well as with help from a local scholarship. He went on to earn his undergrad degree in government in 2006 from the University of Texas at Austin.

“I didn’t think I was going to be able to attend college, but I researched and found a house bill in Texas which allowed students in my situation get some state aid and pay in-state tuition,” he says. “I didn’t qualify for federal aid, which made things real hard.”

His family had to wait over 20 years to get legal residency—an experience that inspired Vasquez to study law with the goal of specializing in immigration law. Unable to further his education until his immigration status got resolved, the years following undergrad were some of the hardest in his life.

“But I never lost hope of one day becoming a lawyer,” he says.

In June 2013, his green card arrived—and in less than a year, he was enrolled at WMU-Cooley. He started at the Ann Arbor campus, later moving to the Auburn Hills campus.

“I really enjoyed the willingness of the faculty to want to help you out, and the resources to help you succeed in your classes,” he says. “When I first got to Michigan I didn’t have a car and Dean Vestrand gave me a ride to orientation—that’s one of the many highlights the faculty did for me.”

Immigration law was clearly his niche—he received the Certificate of Merit for the highest grade in the class.

As a student attorney in Cooley’s Sixty Plus ElderLaw Clinic, Vasquez particularly appreciated the detailed classroom component.

“I got to work with real clients with real problems and had to figure out a way to solve their issues. It was a great way to put into practice the skills I’ve gained through classes,” he says.

“Professor O’Leary, who heads the clinic, has been one of my mentors. She made me feel like I could practice as soon as I graduated.”

While working at the clinic, Vasquez also served as outreach coordinator to the Spanish-speaking communities in Lansing, providing seniors at risk of financial exploitation with education about preventive measures, and on how to contact the Sixty Plus Clinic for assistance.

In the summer of 2015, Vasquez studied international law in the Study Abroad Program in Madrid, Spain.

“It was a blast,” he says. “I got to do the running of the bulls in Pamplona.”

The following spring, he participated in the New Zealand/Australia study abroad program, receiving the Certificate of Merit in Equities and Remedies and in the following semester serving as teaching assistant for that class.

When not studying, he enjoyed touring Down Under.

“I did a 10-hour hike in the wilderness in the south island of New Zealand, and scuba dived for the first time, at the Great Barrier Reef in Australia were I got to scuba with sharks. It was great experience.

“Both programs had great international law classes where I learned a lot, and I got to experience different cultures. Studying abroad had been one of my dreams, but I couldn’t leave the country until I got my permanent status in the United States.”

Vasquez participated in several Cooley volunteer activities, including planting flowers for elderly residents at Avalon Housing in Ann Arbor, packing food at Forgotten Harvest for people in need, and helping with a Thanksgiving event at Avondale High School, organized by Professor Martha Moore.

“We collected and provided food to people who didn’t have the money to buy a Thanksgiving dinner. The faces of the people leaving with the boxes of food was a very rewarding experience—it was great,” he says. “Cooley’s many community service events were always so rewarding and give students the ability to give back.”

Vasquez has returned to Waco and will enter the University of Texas Law School this fall to study for an LLM in international law, focusing in immigration.

“I want to learn as much as I can in that area before I start to work,” he says. “I would like to have my own practice in immigration law, and help out as many people as I can by fixing their situation, which I can totally relate to.

“I think there are kids who are brought to the United States, not by choice, who want to work, study hard—and who can’t further their talents because of their legal status, mainly because the path to get legal status is so hard. Without a legal status they don’t qualify for government aid or loans, and when they graduate they can’t get a job. The DREAM Act is the most promising legislation that could allow people who came at a young age get legal status, but has failed to pass.”

Although he is happy to return to the Lone Star State, Vasquez will always have fond memories of Michigan.

“I always wanted to live some place where it snowed, so I’ll miss some of that,” he says. “I’m also going to miss the friends I’ve made here, including some of my professors. I really feel like I got a high-quality education at Cooley.”

Last November, Vasquez made his first trip back to Guatemala since leaving as a child in 1993.

“It was awesome to re-unite with family I hadn’t seen since I left—my grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins,” he says.

As he looks back over his life and his path to success, Vasquez has one main thought.

“I want to give credit to God, who I believe has been helping me throughout this journey.”

This article about WMU-Cooley graduate Luis  Vasquez was written by Legal News writer Sheila Pursglove originally published by the Legal News on May 10, 2017. It is reprinted here with permission of The Detroit Legal News. 

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ABA Past President Paulette Brown speaks to new WMU-Cooley students at Orientation

“I do not subscribe to the theory that there are too many lawyers,” Brown said. “I don’t believe that because if there were too many lawyers, there wouldn’t be as many people who did not have access to justice.” – Immediate past president of the American Bar Association (ABA), Paulette Brown.

Ms. Brown spoke to WMU-Cooley incoming students, faculty and staff, as well as attorneys and legal professionals from the community, about the need for and responsibility of lawyers during a recent student orientation welcome reception. She also emphasized the responsibility involved with earning a law degree. She urged students to always remember the communities from which they came.

“A law degree is more than a piece of paper, it is a real privilege,” Brown said. “It is a license to do good, and to make sure the rule of law is maintained in this country and elsewhere.”

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Brown is a partner and co-chair of the diversity and inclusion committee at Locke Lord LLP. Brown has held many positions throughout her career, including as in-house counsel to a number of Fortune 500 companies and as a municipal court judge. In private practice, she has focused on all facets of labor and employment and commercial litigation.

Within the ABA, she has been a member of the House of Delegates since 1997 and is a former member of the Board of Governors and its executive committee, as well as the Governance Commission. Brown also chaired the ABA Council on Racial and Ethnic Justice (now Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice) and is a past co-chair of the Commission on Civic Education in the Nation’s Schools.

Brown has served on the Commission on Women in the Profession and was a co-author of Visible Invisibility: Women of Color in Law Firms. She is a former member of The Fund for Justice and Education (FJE), the FJE President’s Club, and a Life Fellow of the American Bar Foundation.

She has been recognized by the National Law Journal as one of “The 50 Most Influential Minority Lawyers in America” and by the New Jersey Law Journal as one of the “prominent women and minority attorneys in the State of New Jersey.” She has received the New Jersey Medal from the New Jersey State Bar Foundation and serves on its board of trustees.

Brown earned her J.D. at Seton Hall University School of Law and her B.A. at Howard University.

WATCH Immediate past president of the American Bar Association, Paulette Brown’s talk in its entirety (19:54).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moultrie also appreciated how prepared he felt during the bar.

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

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

WMU-Cooley Law School graduate Brandon Moultrie

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

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

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

WMU-Cooley Law School graduate Brandon Moultrie

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hardam2

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

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

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

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

WMU-Cooley graduate Josh Mikrut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WMU-Cooley graduate Josh Mikrut

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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WMU-Cooley graduate will capitalize on first career to begin on second in the law

“I wanted to push my boundaries,” says Chris DeLucenay of his decision to pursue a legal career after 10 years as a hardware engineer specializing in digital design custom logic. “I’m kind of a lifelong student,” DeLucenay says. “I was originally looking into an MBA, but I didn’t want to go into business. Then my wife noticed that I could do law school part time and keep working if I went to Cooley. I was always interested in IP law, and I love problem solving, so that was a great solution.”

WMU-Cooley student Chris DeLucenay

The Indiana native worked for five years for Rockwell Collins and five years for GE Aviation, at the latter designing components that went into flight data recorders and “other processing elements.”

Though of course his exemplary years at WMU-Cooley were a large factor, it was also that expertise that landed him a position at Gardner, Linn, Burkhart, and Flory, which is dedicated exclusively to Intellectual Property law.

GLBF was the subject of a 3/13/2013 Grand Rapids Legal News article, when it was the only firm in West Michigan to receive a first-tier ranking in all six of the categories in the prestigious U.S. News and World Report/Best Lawyers ranking: Patent Law, Trademark Law, Copyright Law, Litigation-Intellectual Property and Litigation-Patent. The 2012-2013 designation was the second time for the firm, and it has continued its first-tier ratings since.

DeLucenay barely skipped a beat between school and employment. He took off Monday and Tuesday, but returned to school Wednesday for his last exam, and started work on Thursday of last week.

While he is not an attorney yet since he does not take the bar exam until July, DeLucenay is eligible to work at the firm as a registered patent officer because he has already passed the patent bar.

That makes him feel somewhat more comfortable with the bar exam than many of his fellow students. “Most take a couple months off to study for the bar,” he says,” but I can’t do that. Still, I’m dedicated to working on my bar prep around my work schedule, and I think I’ll be all right.”

He says that he did find law school challenging. “Engineering school was hard, so I was prepared. But even though it wasn’t really that hard, law school was more work than I thought; the hardest part was balancing the time for classes and all the reading with continuing to work full-time.”

DeLucenay gives WMU-Cooley a great deal of credit. “I thought the teachers were fantastic to be honest,” he says. “I was really impressed with the professors and especially with Dean [Nelson] Miller.”

Especially notable, DeLucenay says, were David Berry, who is Of Counsel at Brooks Kushman and has taught at WMU-Cooley since 2002, and Gerald Tschura, who is now director of the Intellectual Property LL.M. program.

WMU-Cooley Team Joyce Hill and Christopher DeLucenay

WMU-Cooley Team Joyce Hill and Christopher DeLucenay

It was Tschura who coached the winning team of DeLucenay and Joyce Hill (from the Auburn Hills campus) in the Detroit U.S. Patent Office’s Midwest Regional International Patent Drafting Competition. In the competition’s inaugural year, 2016, the team came in second, but the field was small. By the second competition earlier this year, 14 teams from different states and even Canada, including several from Michigan, participated; WMU-Cooley was the only Michigan school which advanced to the finals.

“I was a little disappointed with getting third, but we beat a lot of the big schools in Michigan,” DeLucenay comments.

Regardless of outcome, the experience was quite worthwhile for DeLucenay. At the time of the 2016 competition, he was quoted as saying, “Professor Tschura was the only team coach that attended the competition. We were fortunate to have one so well versed in intellectual property law there to assist… He also introduced us to some of the law partners, examiners, and managing directors in the IP industry. What a fantastic networking opportunity that was! I learned that each practitioner, corporation, law firm and USPTO has their own unique way or spin on writing patents.

“I was honored to represent WMU-Cooley respectably.”

Originally from the very small town of Angola, Ind., DeLucenay received his bachelor’s from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terra Haute, and went to Iowa State University for his graduate degree.

He married his high school sweetheart, and the two live in Ada, which he says is a very comfortable two hours from their childhood home. “We’ve put our roots down here in Grand Rapids,” he says. The couple has one daughter, born a few months after DeLucenay started at law school.

DeLucenay was particular about what firms he wanted to work for, particularly about the not-too-big, not-too-small size he sought.He did a lot of research and started his job search early.

He recognizes that he is lucky to have succeeded in obtaining employment immediately after law school in a market that can still be glutted, though he comments, “It’s strange, you always hear there are too many lawyers but on the other hand we have massive problems with people having representation.”

He attributes that success to choosing IP law as his concentration and to his experience. “At GE Aviation I volunteered in the legal department for the last two years, so I’ve been doing similar work,” he notes.

WMU-Cooley Team Joyce Hill and Christopher DeLucenay

WMU-Cooley Team Joyce Hill and Christopher DeLucenay

“My degree impacted my employment directly in that I couldn’t have taken the patent bar without it,” he says, adding, “You need to be able to understand the technical merits of their work. There are varying degrees of complexity; I’m sure some will be way over my head. But my specialty in electrical and computer is in the field with the highest demand in the patent area, which also factored into my decision to pursue IP law.”

Burkhart Gardner Linn and Flory is expanding. At the time of the Grand Rapids Legal News article there were six attorneys, but DeLucenay will be the ninth and there are plans for at least one more this year.

One of the main attractions of for DeLucenay is the firm’s commitment to mentoring. “The primary reason I went to this firm is because they really emphasize the training. I won’t have one specific mentor, they’re all going to mentor me,” he says.

“It’s just a great opportunity, because they’re really good at what they do.”

This story was written by Grand Rapids Legal News writer Cynthia Price and was originally published by the Legal News on April 19, 2017.  It is reprinted here with permission of Detroit Legal News Publishing LLC.

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