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.

Ross Berlin: Passion, Core Values and Principles Set the Standard

Ross Berlin, WMU-Cooley (Kavanagh Class, 1981), is the cover feature story in the Summer 2017 issue of Benchmark Alumni Magazine. Berlin was a gifted athlete, playing football, basketball, and baseball in college. After obtaining his juris doctor from WMU-Cooley Law School, he began a remarkable career encompassing wide-ranging experiences, beginning as an associate at a Los Angeles sports and entertainment law firm, advancing to general counsel of a public works/environmental systems enterprise; then to Senior Vice President of Venues, 1994 World Cup USA; followed by work as a consultant for the 1997 Ryder Cup in Valderrama, Spain.

He then became PGA TOUR Vice President for Sales and Marketing for the World Golf Championships and then a William Morris sports agent for LPGA phenom Michelle Wie. Ultimately he returned to the PGA TOUR as Senior Vice President, Player Relations.

CLICK HERE to read Ross Berlin’s cover feature story in its entirety. It published in the Summer 2017 Benchmark alumni magazine, along with other interesting WMU-Cooley Law School graduate stories.

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WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project’s Efforts Free Detroit Man After 42 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

LeDura (Ledora) Watkins was released today after serving almost 42 years for a robbery and murder he did not commit. Based on the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project’s motion for new trial, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office agreed to vacate the judgment of conviction and dismiss all charges in the 1975 murder of a Detroit woman.

Watkins was sentenced to life without parole on April 15, 1976. The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project filed a motion for new trial on January 19, 2017. The prosecutor’s office agreed that hair comparison evidence used against Watkins does not meet today’s scientific and legal standards. Watkins was sentenced to life without parole on April 15, 1976. The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project filed a motion for new trial on January 19, 2017. The prosecutor’s office agreed that hair comparison evidence used against Watkins does not meet today’s scientific and legal standards.

LeDura Watkins was released after serving 42 years for a murder he did not commit.

LeDura Watkins was released after serving 42 years for a murder he did not commit.

In 2013, the FBI disavowed testimony by FBI-trained analysts, finding they often overstated their conclusions. The Detroit lab analysts, trained by the FBI, tied Watkins to the crime scene based on a single hair.

Innocence Project team members

WMU-Cooley Innocence Project team following the release of LeDura Watkins who served 42 years for a robbery and murder he did not commit.

“Hair comparison is not based on science; it is simply a lab analyst’s subjective opinion and has no place in our criminal justice system,” said Marla Mitchell-Cichon, director of the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project. “This is why a state-wide review of hair comparison cases is critical.”

Mitchell-Cichon commended Prosecutor Kym Worthy and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s office for working with her office to resolve the case. The prosecutor’s office agreed that the new scientific standards are “newly discovered” evidence.

Mitchell-Cichon also noted that over the years, Watkins never stopped fighting for his freedom. He never gave up on the belief that the truth would come out. His family also got their wish; he will attend the annual family reunion in August.

 According to the National Registry of Exonerations, Watkins will be the longest-serving wrongly convicted person in Michigan.

About WMU-Cooley Law School Innocence Project: WMU-Cooley’s project is part of the Innocence Network, which has been credited with the release of over 350 wrongfully accused prisoners through the use of DNA testing. The WMU-Cooley project has screened over 5500 cases since 2001 and is responsible for the exoneration of Kenneth Wyniemko (2003), Nathaniel Hatchett (2008), and Donya Davis (2014). The Project is staffed by WMU-Cooley Law School students and Western Michigan University undergraduates, who work under the supervision of WMU-Cooley Project attorneys. Staff Attorney Eric Schroeder and Legal Intern Wisam Mikho served as lead counsel in this case. Those interested in donating and supporting the work of the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project can email innocence@cooley.edu

About Western Michigan University Cooley Law School: WMU-Cooley Law School resulted from the 2014 affiliation that combined WMU’s status as a nationally-ranked, public, comprehensive research university with the commitment to practical legal education of an independent, non-profit, national law school. WMU-Cooley is accredited by both the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. Since the law school’s founding in 1972, WMU-Cooley has provided nearly 20,000 graduates with the practical skills necessary for a seamless transition from academia to the real world, and enrolls classes in January, May, and September at its Lansing, Auburn Hills, and Grand Rapids, Michigan campuses, and its Tampa Bay, Florida campus. WMU and WMU-Cooley Law School operate as independent institutions with their own governance structure and separate fiduciary responsibilities.

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Trifecta: WMU-Cooley Law alumna has a three-pronged plan

Julie Lawler-Hoyle’s passion for the law was awakened when her wife became disabled from a stroke. “We lost 80 percent of our household income literally overnight,” she says. “The lawyers who helped us through the ensuing financial fallout made a real difference to our family and were my inspiration to apply to law school.”

Julie Lawler-Hoyle was honored with the Distinguished Student Award at WMU-Cooley Law School's May graduation. She is pictured with her wife, Sally, and in-laws Jim and Connie Hoyle.

Julie Lawler-Hoyle was honored with the Distinguished Student Award at WMU-Cooley’s May graduation. She is pictured with her wife, Sally, and in-laws Jim and Connie Hoyle.

Lawler-Hoyle was a May graduate of WMU-Cooley Law School, where she was the Lansing campus recipient of the Distinguished Student Award.

“I was honored,” she says. “And the special diploma frame I received will look spectacular on the wall of my future office!”

Lawler-Hoyle last trod the halls of academe in the mid to late ’80s, when she earned her undergrad degree in English, cum laude, from Barnard College, Columbia University, in New York City; and a master’s degree from Duke University in Durham, N.C., where she focused on English and Medieval & Renaissance studies.

Returning to school nearly three decades later was a joy.

“I sound like a total geek if I say I loved the rigor of the academic program, but it’s true,” she says. “My undergraduate and graduate degrees are from more prestigious schools. But, I can honestly say I never worked harder academically than I did at WMU-Cooley Law School.”

The biggest advantage of being a mature student was self-awareness, she says.

“I know what I don’t know and I’m not shy about admitting when I’m clueless. I have zero inhibitions about making a fool of myself and it’s pretty darn difficult to embarrass me. As it turns out, these are all excellent qualities in a law student.”

Lawler-Hoyle particularly appreciated the diversity at Cooley Law, that she says goes way beyond race and ethnicity.

“It encompasses age, economic background, income, disability, family situation, gender, gender expression, and more,” she explains. “Colleagues are candid about our differences and openly inquisitive about other’s experiences.

“At the Lansing campus graduation reception, I told a story about my Sunday morning Constitutional Law class with retired Brigadier General, Dean Michael McDaniel. I’m sure I wasn’t the first openly gay student he has taught, but Con Law lends itself to spirited discussions—and we had a few!

“One day he said ‘LGBTQ – I don’t even know what the Q stands for,’ and before I could say anything, he followed it up with ‘but I know we need to protect their rights.’ That moment, for me, exemplified WMU-Cooley’s commitment to diversity.”

Lawler-Hoyle has a three-pronged plan for her future practice. First, she hopes to transition to a legal role with her current employer, Pet Supplies Plus, where she worked full time in the corporate office in Livonia during law school and is still working full time while studying for the bar exam.

Second, she plans to have a solo practice that focuses on estate planning for pet owners. And third, she wants both these plans to be so successful that she can take on veteran cases pro bono.

“As a volunteer pet therapy team, with my dog, Sam, at the Veteran’s Administration Ann Arbor Healthcare System, I’ve seen first-hand the special legal needs of our service members and I want to do my part to honor their service,” she says.

In addition to Sam, Lawler-Hoyle and her wife, Sally Hoyle, have a service dog, Katie, cats Hazel and Harley, and birds Abby and Giizis sharing their cottage on the canal that leads into Whitmore Lake, north of Ann Arbor.

“It’s a very beautiful and peaceful place, perfect for retreating from the ‘real world’,” she says.

This article about WMU-Cooley graduate Julie Lawler-Hoyle was written by Legal News writer Sheila Pursglove originally published by the Legal News on June 6, 2017. It is reprinted here with permission of The Detroit Legal News. 

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Howard Soifer’s Life Remembered in Sports and Entertainment Law Lecture Series

Howard Soifer was a proud 1977 graduate of WMU-Cooley Law School and an accomplished lawyer and a shareholder in the firm of Loomis, Ewert, Parsley, Davis & Gotting, P.C., until the time of his death on January 29, 2003 at the age of 53. It is Howard’s great passion and loyalty that the Soifer Committee created the Howard Soifer Memorial Lecture Series in Sports and Entertainment Law. The Committee feels strongly that the event is a meaningful way to honor Howard’s memory and to endow the lecture series for perpetuity.

He was born in the Bronx and moved to Monsey, New York in 1963. Following graduation from the Spring Valley High School Class of 1967, he attended the University of Toledo for two years and received his undergraduate degree from Long Island University in Brooklyn. Howard’s passion for basketball, baseball, and football led him to represent several prominent professional athletes during his career. He was a dedicated family man, devoted to his wife and friend of more than 30 years, Sandy Kirsch Soifer. He was very proud of his two daughters, Marci and Halie. All who were part of Howard’s life remember him for his great sense of humor and his extreme loyalty, integrity, and strength.

MICHIGAN: MSU STAR AND NFL GREAT TODD DUCKETT 

For WMU-Cooley Law School’s 10th Annual Howard Soifer Memorial Lecture in Sports and Entertainment Law, Todd “T.J.” Duckett, Michigan State University standout and former National Football League running back, and Joseph Bellanca (Sharpe Class, 2008), entertainment and media attorney at Hertz Schram PC, spoke at the Lansing campus this past year.

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TAMPA BAY: HEISMAN TROPHY WINNER, NBA STAR CHARLIE WARD

In early 2017, WMU-Cooley Law School, Tampa Bay campus hosted its first Howard Soifer Memorial Lecture. Featured speakers were college football Heisman Trophy winner and retired NBA player Charlie Ward, along with president of the Sarasota Bar and college football standout Keith DuBose.

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Previous Soifer Memorial Lecture speakers over the past 10 years include Tom Izzo, Michigan State University men’s basketball coach and member of the Basketball Hall of Fame; Kevin Poston, president and CEO of Detroit area based DEAL Elite Athletic Management; Steve Smith, broadcaster and former MSU and NBA all-star basketball player; and Steve Garvey, former MSU and Major League Baseball all-star and MVP.

Howard Soifer’s Life Remembered in Lecture Series

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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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