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.

WMU-Cooley’s Lansing Campus to Host Seminar on Marijuana Laws

Law students and lawyers will gather at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School’s Lansing campus to review and discuss legal aspects of current marijuana laws on Thursday, July 27 during a seminar co-hosted by WMU-Cooley Law School and the State Bar of Michigan’s Solo and Small Firm Section. The event will be held from 6-8 p.m. in the Cooley Center.

The seminar will feature a diverse panel of legal experts including Mary Chartier, criminal defense litigator and partner, Chartier & Nyamfukudza, P.L.C.; Robert Hendricks, business attorney, Wrigley, Hoffman & Hendricks, P.C.; and Mike Nichols, trial attorney, Nichols Law Firm, PLLC.

Mary Chartier is a criminal defense litigator and partner at Chartier & Nyamfukudza, P.L.C., with offices in Lansing and Grand Rapids. She practices in courts throughout the state and in federal court. Chartier is a member of the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the National College of DUI Defense. She is also the Appellate Unit chairperson of the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys, chairperson of the Ingham County Bar Association’s Criminal Defense Section, vice chairperson of the State Bar of Michigan’s Marijuana Law Section, and vice chairperson of the Ingham County Bar Association. Chartier has taught at WMU-Cooley Law School for over 10 years, including teaching the nation’s first medical marijuana class. She has presented at numerous nationwide and state conferences on topics related to criminal defense, including at conferences organized by the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan, Michigan Judges Association, State Bar of Michigan, National College for DUI Defense and the Institute for Continuing Legal Education.

Robert Hendricks is a business attorney at Wrigley, Hoffman & Hendricks, P.C. in Grand Rapids where he has practiced since 1984. In response to Michigan’s movement toward legalized marijuana, he and his partners developed a marijuana business practice called CannalexLaw. Hendricks is a member and officer of the State Bar of Michigan’s Marijuana Law Section and the National Cannabis Bar Association. Hendricks speaks regularly on marijuana and business including to the Food and Drug Law Institute, the Michigan Township Association, ICLE, the Public Corporation Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan, various business sections of the Grand Rapids Bar Association and to the Law & Justice Committee of the Michigan House of Representatives.

Mike Nichols is a nationally recognized trial attorney in the area of drunk driving and drugged driving defense. He is the author of the Michigan OWI Handbook for West Publishing. He is a professor of drunk driving law and practice at WMU-Cooley Law School. Nichols also authors several publications for organizations including the National College for DUI Defense. He is on the Controlled Substance Benchbook Committee for the Michigan Supreme Court State Court Administrator’s Office, which publishes reference materials for Michigan judges. Nichols is a faculty member for the National College for DUI Defense and a founding member of the DUI Defense Lawyers of America and the Michigan Association of OWI Attorneys. Nichols is on the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL) Body Cam Task Force, the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan Rules and Laws Committee and the State Bar of Michigan Criminal Law Section Council and the SBM Task Force on 21st Century Law Practice.

 The seminar is open and free to law students who register for the event by July 24. Registration is available at e.michbar.org, or by contacting Elizabeth Silverman at 248-538-1177 and costs $20 for Solo & Small Firm Section members or $25 for non-members

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WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids Campus to Host Panel Discussion on Human Trafficking in Michigan

“You Don’t Own Me: Perspectives on Human Trafficking” will be the topic of discussion at Western Michigan University Cooley Law Schools’ Grand Rapids campus on Wednesday, July 19. The free event is open to the public and will feature a diverse panel of community leaders who will discuss the issue of human trafficking and its impact on west Michigan communities.

Chris Johnson

E. Christopher Johnson

Panelists include Carmen L Kucinich, victim specialist, FBI; Andy Soper, owner, Five Arrows Consulting; Christopher Johnson, Jr., CEO and co-founder, Center for Justice, Rights & Dignity; Jodi Dibble, police officer, city of Muskegon Police Department.

Carmen Kucinich is a master’s level licensed professional counselor with the state of Michigan. Kucinich has been a victim specialist with the Federal Bureau of Investigation since 2005 and has worked with crime victims for over 18 years.  Prior to the FBI, she was a caseworker with the Michigan Indian Child Welfare Agency. She then worked for Safe Harbor Children’s Advocacy Center as a forensic interviewer and therapist for sexually abused children and children who witnessed domestic violence.

Carmen Kucinich

Carmen Kucinich

Kucinich has testified as an expert witness in the areas of the Native American culture, forensic interviewing and children’s counseling. She is active in working on the FBI’s West Michigan Based Child Exploitation Task Force, formed in 2014, and is one of the original members of the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force since 2007. Kucinich has also had the opportunity to provide interviews with local media stations, and participated in the premiere episode of the “Mutually Inclusive” television program.

Having worked with severely traumatized youth for 10 years in residential and community forums, Andy Soper founded the Manasseh Project in 2011 and opened the first human trafficking victims’ shelter in Michigan for minors. After years of advocating for victims and working with professionals to improve treatment and legislation, Soper also helped to open HQ – Grand Rapids’ Runaway and Homeless Youth Drop-In Center in 2014. He is now the owner of Five Arrows Consulting.

Andy Soper

Andy Soper

Christopher Johnson, Jr. and his wife Rhonda were exposed to the injustice, enormity and brutality of human trafficking during a 2011 mission trip with NorthRidge Church to Mumbai, India. They felt called by God to join the anti-human trafficking movement, and together, they co-founded the Center for Justice, Rights & Dignity. The organization is committed to advancing the cause of justice and securing human and civil rights for all who are denied human dignity, especially those victimized by modern day slavery.

Johnson started his legal career in 1981 with a New York law firm. In 1988, he accepted the role as General Motors’ sole attorney handling computer law matters, as well as one of GM’s purchasing lawyers. He rose through the ranks and ultimately became the GM North America vice president and general counsel. After his 2008 retirement from GM, Johnson joined the faculty at Western Michigan University Cooley Law School where he served as a law professor and director/founder of the LL.M. program in Corporate Law and Finance until 2013 when he moved to adjunct status to focus his efforts on human trafficking issues.

Jodi Dibble has worked for the city of Muskegon Police Department as a police officer for 22 years. Dibble became involved in advocating against human trafficking when she learned that her niece (now her adopted daughter) was sex-trafficked at the age of 10. After attending a human trafficking conference hosted by the Michigan Human Trafficking Task Force, she became empowered to raise awareness of the issue.

Dibble is now the vice president of the board and training coordinator for the Hope Project, an outreach program to educate and inform the community about the issue of human trafficking. Dibble is also the chair of the Lakeshore Human Trafficking Task Force. She was the investigating officer on the first prosecuted case of human trafficking in Muskegon County, and also developed the Sex Offender Registry Violation Program at the Muskegon Police Department.

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Valerie Smith: Law School Teaches Law and Life Lessons

“I wanted to go to law school as long as I can remember,” recalled WMU-Cooley law student Valerie Smith. Yet it wasn’t until the single mother of three got the go ahead from her children that she had the courage to pursue her dream.

“I remember coming home one day from my job as a paralegal,” said Smith. “I remember being frustrated. I was 40-years-old. A single mother of two daughters and a son. I was struggling to pay bills, even though I was working very, very hard.

“My kids sat me down to talk. They reminded me of my dream of going to law school and becoming an attorney. My oldest daughter said, ‘Mom, it’s never too late, and you’re never too old.'”

That was it. Smith took the LSAT, then applied and was accepted to WMU-Cooley Law School.

“That day changed my life forever,” declared Smith.

WMU-Cooley student Valerie Smith

Advocate for Other People

“I will never forget the day I was accepted to WMU-Cooley Law School,” exclaimed Smith. “I had been really busy because I had just moved, and hadn’t checked my e-mail for several days. During a break at work though, I decided I would take a look. I saw an email from WMU-Cooley Law School congratulating me on my seat! I started screaming in my office and one of the attorneys came running over to me and said, ‘Valerie, are you alright?’ And I said, ‘Yes!’ as I burst into tears. ‘This is one of the happiest moments of my life. I just got accepted to law school, counselor!’ And he said, ‘Well, congratulations, future counselor!'”

Since starting law school, Smith confesses that she has learned as much about life and herself as she has about the law.

“My first day at WMU-Cooley,” recalled Smith, “the professors told our class that attorneys have others’ lives in their hands – just like a doctor does with our physical well-being, an attorney has others’ lives in our hands – maybe not physically or medically, but financially, emotionally, mentally, situationally, and legally. It is a huge responsibility. We need to be their advocates.”

Smith says she has never forgotten that lesson. She comes to class every day prepared and ready to be another’s true advocate.

“I value my legal education here at WMU-Cooley,” stated Smith. “I never take it for granted. I am here to help my colleagues, and they are always here to help me. Even my 20-something-year-old classmates support, help and encourage me. I’ve never felt like an outsider, but that I belong.

“The professors have been so encouraging and have given me so many opportunities. They made it possible for me to participate in the law school’s study abroad program in New Zealand, which was an experience of a lifetime that I never thought would be possible. And I was also given the opportunity to be a professor’s teaching assistant.”

WMU-Cooley Vibe

Smith believes the WMU-Cooley curriculum and people are second to none.

“The curriculum at WMU-Cooley is so challenging, amazing, interesting, and intriguing, but it’s the people that stand out,” declared Smith. “There is a vibe here at WMU-Cooley that I don’t think you will find at most other law schools. That vibe includes enthusiasm and due diligence. It includes positive attitudes and commitment. And the encouragement you receive among the staff, professors, and students is contagious.

“We are an energized, diverse group of people who all have the same goal. We just want to be lawyers and save lives.”

WMU-Cooley student Valerie Smith

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Sacred Beginnings Founder Leslie F. King Tells Powerful Survivor Story to WMU-Cooley Law Students

WMU-Cooley Law School students were gripped listening to Sacred Beginnings Founder and Executive Director Leslie King tell her life story about how she, a human trafficking survivor, was able to transform her life after over 20 years of being exploited, addicted, and trapped. The WMU-Cooley Lunch & Learn education program called Addiction and Human Trafficking was held at WMU-Cooley on Wednesday, June 14. WMU-Cooley law students, in conjunction with the American Bar Association Student Division, hosted the event.

Sacred Beginnings Founder Leslie King tells WMU-Cooley law students her life story of being exploited, addicted, and trapped, until she found the courage to turn her life around.

Sacred Beginnings Founder Leslie King tells WMU-Cooley law students her life story of being exploited, addicted, and trapped, until she found the courage to turn her life around.

“Leslie King was captivating,” declared WMU-Cooley Assistant Dean Mable Martin-Scott. “She was intense and real. This was a rare opportunity for our students to see the impact crime has on victims and to hear first-hand how human trafficking destroys lives. This was a teachable moment. Law school is not about laws, it is about people. When the students heard Leslie’s story, they were initially shocked, but then they started thinking like an advocate, and talk about ways the law could or should protect her. Priceless and excellent seminar.”

WMU-Cooley law student and event organizer Nakita Haynes was grateful to have Ms. King come to WMU-Cooley’s Lansing campus to speak.

“I had the opportunity to listen to Ms. King at another conference I attended, and was moved to tears,” recalled Haynes. “I knew if I brought her here to speak, my fellow students would be charged by her energy and inspired by her story of perseverance, strength, and justice; especially as law students and soon-to-be lawyers.”

King talked about the struggles she had endured, until she found the strength and courage in 2000 to break free and commit her life to rescuing and rehabilitating women just like her.

“I went to rehab and kicked my addictions,” stated King. “It was hard. Really hard. But I graduated and went to work as a counselor at the rehab center — the first graduate to do that. God opened doors for me to work with the police department as an advocate for women trapped in the life I once lived.”

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Today Leslie is an award-winning and sought-after expert, speaker, and trainer. In conjunction with her mission at Sacred Beginnings, she works alongside law enforcement and legislators to affect lasting change.

Read Ms. King’s story HERE.

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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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Rafael Diaz combines his love for the criminal justice system and the law

Rafael Diaz, a lieutenant with the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety and a 2010 WMU-Cooley Law School graduate, knew from an early age that he wanted to go to law school. Every decision, from high school through college, was made to position himself for a career in the law.

But, as he was coming to the end of his time in college, he looked at law school again. Married, and with a young daughter, Diaz decided it was not the right time to make a commitment to law school.

“Life kind of creeps up on you,” he remembered. “I had to look at other things. I was volunteering for the Holland Police Department as a reserve police officer and wondered about what to do for work. I reasoned that, since I planned to be a prosecutor in the criminal justice system, what better way to learn about its inner workings than from that vantage point. Well, lo and behold, I really enjoyed it! I loved the police-citizen interactions and I loved the law at that level. So I thought to myself, well, I love law; I love law enforcement; I think I would like to be a police officer. So that’s exactly what I did.”

After five years at the Holland Police Department, Diaz joined Kalamazoo Public Safety in 2005, giving himself more time for family and the opportunity to dream about law school again.

Diaz learned that WMU-Cooley’s many scheduling options could make pursuing his dream possible. In 2007, he started law school at WMU-Cooley’s Lansing campus taking classes during the day, knowing that if his work schedule changed, he could continue by taking advantage of other scheduling options the law school offered.

WMU-Cooley graduate Rafael Diaz

“For a person who was on the streets doing night patrol, the fact that WMU-Cooley offered classes in the morning, afternoon, evening, and even on weekends, was fantastic,” said Diaz. “So many doors opened for me. I don’t really know of another way I could have really done it, but for WMU-Cooley’s scheduling options. As you can imagine, it was hard working nights as a patrol officer and balancing everything else, but the flexibility I was afforded in Public Safety and the opportunity to teach through a joint relationship between Public Safety and a local educational association, gave me the lift I needed to start law school.”

He continued to work with area high school students, teaching them what it might be like to be a police officer. He enjoyed working with the students, plus he found that this work schedule allowed him to attend evening classes and more time to study.

“The department really stood by me while I was in law school,” said Diaz. “The flexibility I received from work and law school, along with my family’s support and understanding, is how I got to where I am today.”WMU-Cooley graduate Rafael Diaz

Law school was tough, but all Diaz’ memories are positive. “My experience at WMU-Cooley was one of the best times of my life,” Diaz recalled. “Not only was I busy at work, I was busy in law school. I loved being challenged. I also met a lot of great people. I had a tremendous amount of interaction with people and have stayed in contact with many over the years and built lasting friendships.

“It might not have been the traditional approach,” smiled Diaz, “but it worked for me, and everything seemed to fall into place.”

For Diaz, the professors at WMU-Cooley stood out as exceptional teachers. They also made themselves available to help students.

“I have really grown an appreciation for their work and their care of the students,” said Diaz. “Coupled with the friendships and the relationships that I developed, law school was one of the best times ever. Even now I find time to stop by the law school just to say hello. I really loved my time at WMU-Cooley.”

How has a law degree helped in a career in law enforcement?

Diaz explained that his training and legal education have made him a better person, both personally and professionally.

“The law degree is what has broadened my eyes, my perspective, and my approach to so many different issues,” he stated. “I have gone up the ranks, and am now a lieutenant and I got there in a relatively short period of time. I believe it is because the work that I have done and the work that I can do is appreciated. By setting myself apart from other candidates, I have been allowed to progress quickly. It really is a wonderful intersection of my love of law enforcement and my love of law, and the practice of it as an attorney.

“WMU-Cooley set me up for success. They taught me how to look at a problem, any problem really, then apply specific set of skills to analyze the problem and come up with solutions, looking at many sides of an issue. Sometimes in law enforcement we get stuck in only seeing it from one side. That can lead to a lot of frustration when we only want certain outcomes.

“What law school has taught me to do is to examine things from all sides in different ways because people have different points of view. That’s very, very helpful. It gives you a greater understanding and compassion for different views. We may agree to disagree at the end, and that’s OK, but in examining it from all different angles we are able to really see those points and then mesh it in with what the law says about how we have to behave ourselves in society. Really, it is an academic exercise in understanding different folks. For me, that has been huge.”

Family Makes Perfect

Diaz knows that he owes much to the unconditional support and love of his family.

“I can go back to when I was registering for WMU-Cooley Law School,” recalled Diaz. “At the time, I was working as a patrol officer, assigned a night shift. I sat down with my wife and we talked about it. We knew that it was going to be a life-changing, life-altering event for several years. It basically came down to this, my wife said, ‘If you’re willing to do it and put the work in, I am willing to do everything else, and we will get it done.’ I knew right then that I had the support of my wife.”

But Diaz also had two children to factor into the equation.

“I asked my daughter Alana, who is now 20 and a junior at Western Michigan University, and my son, who is going to be 14, ‘How do you think or feel about me taking this on?’  I said, ‘I am going to need a lot of time to study.’ They both looked at me and said, ‘Dad, if that’s what you want to do, let’s do it!’ ”

Even with the full support of his family, Diaz knew there would times where his family would suffer.

“What I tried to do was balance life as much as I could,” suggested Diaz. “Anything that I had outside of school, work, and family was gone, and I still haven’t picked up the game of golf since, but that’s OK. I want dinner time with my family. I encourage anybody who is looking at law school to carve out time for your family, regardless of how busy you are at work or school. In my mind, if it doesn’t work with family, then it’s all wasted.

“During family time, you put the books to the side, sit down, eat dinner, or watch a show, then when they go to bed, get back at it. I tell you what, I got a lot of strength from my family. Even during those years, I coached my daughter in softball and soccer and my son in baseball and soccer, because I love coaching. You can really tackle anything when you have that family support.

“I was truly blessed because my wife, my daughter, my son have always stood behind me and given me pushes, like, ‘Hey dad shouldn’t you be studying? Why don’t you get after it?’ I am thankful every day for the tremendous support of my family, and at some level I believe it was good for them, modeling good study habits, punctuality, and dedication.

“So, it is a two-way street, and we have both benefited tremendously.”

A Day in the Life of Rafael Diaz

With Public Safety, Diaz believes he has one of the most exciting and rewarding careers in the world.

“In 2008, I had a great opportunity to take a class in crisis intervention and learn how to help mentally ill subjects in crisis,” said Diaz. “The concept was that you can de-escalate a situation and seek positive outcomes by having relationships in the community. We now have a crisis intervention team here in Kalamazoo where we link all the necessary resources. We regularly train large classes, 40 officers at a time, and have built a crisis intervention team trained in mental health issues, coupled with de-escalation training, which reduces the probability for violence.”

The efforts have, over the years, improved the treatment and care of the individuals in crisis.

“Those are really the hallmarks of a successful program,” stated Diaz. “We have even been taking our training methods across the state, including a jail diversion program. The overarching principle is, ‘What is the right thing to do?’ We can work on all the other things that go along with that, so long as we have an eye towards getting a good outcome. This model of policing is not only catching fire statewide, but nationally. We are touching lives and that’s really exciting work.”

Diaz may have taken the road less traveled to get him to where he is today, but he has succeeded at every turn, proving to one and all that there is more than one pathway to success.

This story is also published in the Summer 2017 Benchmark. CLICK HERE to see the story and to read about other interesting WMU-Cooley Law School graduates. 

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Arthrex Sr. Vice President John W. Schmieding: Our Mission Drives Everything We Do

Naples, Florida is well-known as a great resort destination, with miles of white sandy beaches, calm waters, fishing, high-end shopping, golf courses, and even dolphin-watching. What’s less well-known is that Naples is a premier global research and training destination for orthopedic surgeons. John W. Schmieding (Moore Class, 1993) is the senior vice president and general counsel for Arthrex, Inc., a world leader in orthopedic surgical device design, research, manufacturing and medical education. Its mission is helping surgeons treat their patients better.

Since 1981, when Arthrex was founded by Schmieding’s brother, Reinhold, Arthrex has experienced tremendous growth and demand for its products. Its global headquarters in Naples is nothing short of impressive. The vibrant atmosphere of rapid product innovation, medical research and surgeon collaboration is noticeable on its sprawling campus. Surgeons come from around the world to learn about new products and techniques through hands-on surgical skills training programs at this premier medical education facility.

For the past 15 years, with his educational experiences and leadership acumen, Schmieding has been a steward of the legal framework which has facilitated Arthrex’s incredible growth and economic success in the Naples community and around the world.

Did you always know you wanted to be a lawyer?

I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a lawyer. My earliest memory, and one of my favorite stories, is when I was a young boy sitting in the backseat of our car looking out the window and a bus passed. It wasn’t the bus so much, but something else. I remember turning to my mother and cleverly saying, “Mom, the school bus probably had wooden seats back in your day!” She quickly smiled at me and told me, “Absolutely, John. That’s very deductive of you. You should be a lawyer when you grow up!”

That was the moment I knew I wanted to be a lawyer, not because of the law but because of the analysis. Even today I encourage my own children to be inquisitive about history and to think about how things are developed and where things belong. Inquisitiveness is an invaluable quality.

How was your time at Western Michigan University? What was your undergrad focus?

I was focused at Western to find a degree that would give me a leg up in law school. I entered WMU’s Criminal Justice program, in addition to a Courts minor – which resembled prelaw courses. I finished the requirements within two years and my advisor told me I should pursue another major. I always loved writing, so I chose English and Creative Writing. Learning how to creatively think and express those thoughts in writing has helped me tremendously throughout my career. It is one of the skills that I find lawyers are often lacking – the ability to cogently write creatively to convince. The law has many opportunities for creative insight.

By my junior year, I was ready to apply to law school. It happened that my uncle knew Cooley Law School founder, Justice (Thomas) Brennan. He worked with him and went to University of Detroit Law School with him. He advocated for me to go to Cooley. I loved the idea of a practical legal education. My creative mindset loved the idea. I wasn’t looking for theoretical insight or theoretical application of the law. I wanted to practice law. I wanted to be of service to people. My father always inspired me to be of service. Growing up, I watched him help others and I wanted to do the same. I gravitated to Cooley and enjoyed it from the first moment I got there. 

Tell us about your WMU-Cooley experience.

Once I began law school at Cooley, I could tell it was going to be a drastic change from my undergraduate program. The intensity of real world operations and learning about how the world works was immediate. There are many moments that stick out in my mind. My first memory was standing in front of the class with a microphone, being grilled on our previous night’s assignments. You learned quickly to be prepared for class and never, ever come unprepared. That lesson has helped me throughout my career.

Law school was a tremendous challenge. I admit I was never an A+ student. That didn’t stop me though from embracing classes I wasn’t comfortable with or actually feared – like Tax Law. I remember making the conscious decision to dive into classes that challenged me. Surprisingly, I did well in those classes and even got an A in my Tax classes. It all gave me great confidence.

Receiving the blue book award for Constitutional Law II was the highlight of my law school career. Up to that point, I had never been very close to the top of the class, but I applied myself diligently to that class and wrote a wonderful blue book. I was honored to receive that award and it hangs in my office to this day.

One experience during law school is forever etched on my mind. I was hurrying to take an exam. I was walking too fast down those large marble stairs in the Temple Building. Justice Brennan was walking up just as I was hurrying down. I literally fell down the stairs in front of Justice Brennan! I’ll never forget that. I was so embarrassed. Yet, Judge Brennan helped me up and was very gracious. I’m sure he remembered what it was like to be a student taking exams. I appreciated him and respected him highly. Oddly, this was one of my fondest memories of my time at Cooley.

How did WMU-Cooley prepare you for a legal career?

My law school experience enriched me with confidence and the practical skills necessary in the professional world. The skills I gained in my research and writing classes were immediately applicable in my work after graduation. I worked for a small accounting firm in downtown Detroit before I started my legal career. I did a lot of research regarding bond fund accounting and arbitrage and really enjoyed it. I applied things I learned in law school directly to that job.

Then I hung out my own shingle, and then worked for a small firm, then a large firm, and now I am in-house at a large multinational corporation.

When I first practiced for myself, I was doing minor litigation matters. Yet within weeks, I had my first small district court trial. The opposing counsel walked into the courtroom and I handed him his trial book, tabulated and organized, just as I had learned in law school. He looked at me dismayed and said, “You are way too organized.” I ended up winning that matter, which was pretty gratifying. It was a thrill to actually apply all I had learned so quickly, and I didn’t even have a mentor at the time. I knew I would succeed as an attorney.

In early practice, I did a lot of civil procedure cases, and leaned on all I learned during Civ Pro. I represented a client who had a real estate matter go south. They hired me to try to iron out the deal. It ended up in litigation where we had to file suit against the sellers of the property. The sellers hired a very famous, well-respected, University of Detroit Civil Procedure professor. Here I am, out of law school only a couple years, and I am going up against someone known to be an expert in this area of law. Well, I ended up winning. The claims were based on a failure-to-disclose matter where the seller failed to inform the purchasers of some water damage to the residence. We ended up going through motion practice, and I survived all the complex procedural attacks seeking dismissal on procedural grounds from this professor. I won every motion, and before trial, the judge tacitly recommended both counsels to settle. The sellers ended up paying us for the undisclosed damage. What a great challenge and confidence builder!

Tell us about your path to Arthrex?

As my career progressed, I started working for larger firms, including a regional firm based out of Pittsburgh called Doepken, Keevican and Weiss. We did everything from commercial litigation to mergers and acquisitions. I was exposed to a wide variety of topics, but Cooley prepared me for that, too. By now I had a wealth of experience and could apply the depth and breadth of my experience anywhere, including as general counsel for Arthrex.

Since the 1990’s Arthrex was growing at a tremendous pace and the foundational legal frameworks needed to be established. Fifteen years ago, my brother asked me to join the team as his legal counsel. We had nearly 100 employees at the time. We now have over 4,800 worldwide, 2,800 in Southwest Florida. When I joined, it was a legal blank slate. It was an honor to have the opportunity to help foster and prepare this company for growth and to help with the great medical vision my brother created. We are a very unique organization. We make medical devices for orthopedics and are the largest sports medicine manufacturer of medical devices in the world. We are committed to doing things in a way that public companies simply don’t. We are on a medical mission, not a shareholder value mission, in everything we do.

It was a rewarding challenge to build ethical and legal frameworks responsive to the needs of our mission. I had to apply an entire range of legal thought and experience to make sure our business foundation was legally sound. I worked to assist in patent prosecution, handle product liability matters, oversee insurance issues, advise on FDA regulations, advise on compliance regulations, and handle all corporate governance, contracts and a variety of other things. I now have 10 attorneys who work for me globally.

The open canvas of the position has been a continual painting. Every day I assist in the growth of our worldwide expansion. What a tremendous experience and privilege it has been! I get to work with some of the best lawyers in the world, and it’s very humbling. What’s important for any attorney is to be open to learning new methods and creative ways of doing things, no matter how long we have practiced. I am excited to see what the future holds.

What is it about your career that makes it the perfect fit for you?

I believe my practice reflects my personality. I have had a wide variety of experiences and have never allowed myself to be type-cast into one role. I love that I am able to sit with a design team of engineers and help develop solutions to medical problems. I am actually an inventor on several patents. The diversity in my work allows me to explore new areas and challenge myself and others. A lawyer’s mind is essential in any problem solving group. Never underestimate your ability to enter a business discussion, a mechanical discussion, a failure or risk mode discussion, because it informs the conversation in a different way due to our legal training and experience. We are able to solve problems, critically look at things and apply knowledge in ways others cannot.

My personal life is also varied. While I spend most of my time with my four beautiful children and my wife, I am also involved with Leadership Florida where I am in “Class 35.” It is a wonderful program where we learn about issues the state is facing in order to help serve our local community better. I also sit on the board of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, and am active in leveraging Arthrex’s needs for the betterment of our community. My current focus is on workforce training and housing.

My family is important to me and I spend a lot of time with my son in the outdoors and enjoying Florida’s natural beauty with my daughters. We also spend time in northern Michigan enjoying the beauty of the Great Lakes. Both states have so much to offer. I am also an avid reader and love intellectual pursuits.

Do you have advice for others?

Let me tell you a story about how I applied my education. I was at a charity event many years ago when I was just beginning my practice. There was a well-known attorney at the table who had been very successful in the Detroit area and I wondered about his story, so I asked, “I am just starting out, any words of advice for me?”

His advice for me was to find a corporation and obtain an equity interest in the company.

I sat back and thought that is not what I want to do. My goals have nothing to do with finance. My belief is that your passion should drive your pursuits, and my passion was our profession; serving as a pillar of democracy.

This is why the Arthrex mission is such a great fit. Focusing on passion drives innovation and creativity, not on a financial outcome of the matter. It turned out to be a wonderful business model for Arthrex, and we are extremely successful because we are focused on our goal of helping surgeons treat their patients better. But the success came after the mission. In that commitment, unlike many of our competitors, we are committed to building and manufacturing our products in the United States. Ninety five percent of our products are made here in the United States – 70 percent of those are made right here in Southwest Florida.

This is a purposeful commitment. Our mission drives everything we do.

Arthrex also continues to reinvest in expansion. We just built another 200,000-square-foot manufacturing facility here in Southwest Florida and we are building a 300,000-square-foot facility on the main campus in Naples, which will employ another 1,000 people over the next five years. We are building for growth, and we are committed to keeping that manufacturing here in the United States.

Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates our business model and success. Some competitors have lost in the market to our innovation and creativity, and rather than working to better their business they have attempted to challenge us in court.

Patent law was not something I was very involved with in my private practice. I was only slightly involved in certain patent reviews and due diligence on patents. Yet when I arrived here, I was immediately aware of how industries in our field utilized patents to gain an advantage – an advantage not intended by the system.

Having the ability to overcome difficult situations is a necessary life skill. It is something I first learned in law school during Professor Roger Needham’s Civil Procedure class. There was no question in anyone’s mind that he was an extremely intelligent man, but he was extremely demanding and his classroom demeanor was nothing short of scary. It was a challenge to live up to his expectations. While I found it frightful, it was such a wonderful experience.

After a very tough term in Civ Pro, where half the students failed, I ended up with the second highest grade in his class – an accomplishment I never expected. Ultimately, what Professor Needham did for me, and for all of us, is teach us a world lesson – how to deal with difficult people. It was a wake-up call for many students. That classroom lesson has been practically applied throughout my career.

If you are looking for one last piece of advice, I suggest you strive to understand how to communicate and collaborate with others, and use your passion to understand your client’s mission and join them as a partner, not as simply a service provider. If you do, you will find great success in your career, and in life.

This story is also published in the Summer 2017 Benchmark. CLICK HERE to see the story and to read about other interesting WMU-Cooley Law School graduates. 

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