Category Archives: Student Experiences

All Cooley graduates have practiced law in a supervised setting before graduation. Here, students share their experiences through Cooley’s blog as they move the the process.

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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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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Filed under Latest News and Updates, Student Experiences, The Value of a Legal Education, Uncategorized, WMU-Cooley Innocence Project

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 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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Powerhouse: Law student shows passion for politics and performing

Saad Chishty has two major passions in life — law and music. And both have led him to rub shoulders with political bigwigs and celebrities. Over the winter break the WMU-Cooley Law School 2L student recorded with session musicians from Gladys Knight and Herbie Hancock’s Tower of Power, at London’s famous Abbey Road Studios, once home to the Beatles.

WMU-Cooley student Saad Chishty

Saad Chishty has two major passions in life — law and music. And both have led him to rub shoulders with political bigwigs and celebrities.

Over the winter break the WMU-Cooley Law School 2L student recorded with session musicians from Gladys Knight and Herbie Hancock’s Tower of Power, at London’s famous Abbey Road Studios, once home to the Beatles.

“It was amazing, to say the least,” he says. “I’m very fortunate to have tracked some vocals and guitar riffs in the same recording facility as the greatest of the greats—it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Chishty also has worked with Sterling Sound, Universal Music Studios, Westlake Recording Studios, Kaboom Studios, Hinge Studios, as well as Conway Recording Studios and Sphere Studios, both in Los Angeles.

“I’m currently working with a team of Grammy award-winning mixing engineers who truly take recording, mixing, and vocal post-production to a whole new level,” he says. “My sound engineer’s production and mixing credits include JT, Pharrell Williams, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Drake, Britney Spears, Flo Rida, Lil Wayne, and Justin Bieber.”

WMU-Cooley student Saad Chishty

Currently signed to KaBOOM! Records, an indie record label with distribution through Universal Music and Beatport, Chishty also has a publication deal for select song titles with Island Def Jam.

Chishty, who received classic training from boyhood in various instruments including violin, cello, synthesizers and piano, comes from a talented musical gene pool.

“Everybody is musically inclined in our family, from my father to my siblings,” he says. “We all play a variety of instruments and sing. We’re all different in our writing styles. Music is an outlet to express myself.”

In 1992-93, he appeared on the TV show “Star Search,” with a dance-choreography and vocal performance act. “It was a privilege to be chosen for the regional semi-finals by the judges and the legendary Ed McMahon,” he says.

On the political side, Chishty is very involved with Michigan’s Democratic caucus and the state legislature, and took part in political canvassing during the November general election, when he was involved in phone banking, registering voters and canvassing neighborhoods to gauge the turnout. He watched the second presidential debate with New York Mayor Bill De Blasio and his wife. “They’ve become excellent mentors and acquaintances,” he says. “They are fantastic public figures.”

He also spent time with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. “We’ve shared conversations on a few occasions,” Chishty says. “She’s a woman of profound substance and accomplishment.”

WMU-Cooley student Saad Chishty

Last July, Chishty and other local community leaders were invited to attend the funeral of boxing great and civil rights activist Muhammed Ali in Louisville, Ky., where he had the opportunity to meet and interact with keynote speakers and dignitaries including Rev. Jesse Jackson.

“It was truly a humbling and once-in-a-lifetime experience where I got to interact with some influential figures,” he says.

With a current goal of interning for the Civil Rights Commission — or for a major record label — Chishty is pleased with his choice of Cooley Law School.

“I like everything — from the faculty to the student body,” he says. “It’s very student-centered — that’s what I love most!”

A Dallas native whose parents still live in the Lone Star State, Chishty makes his home in Detroit, where he is active in the interfaith community and enjoys writing poetry, discussing politics, “wanderlusting” and partaking in thrill-seeking sports. He is as yet unsure of his final legal focus.

“I’m split between entertainment law and my inner desire to serve the public with my extensive teaching experience, music publishing, volunteering with the NGOs in Africa, Middle East and South Asia, song cataloging and writing recording contracts for indie artists,” he says. “We shall see!”

This article about WMU-Cooley student Saad Chishty written by Legal News writer Sheila Pursglove and was originally published by the Legal News on April 21, 2017. It is reprinted here with permission of The Detroit Legal News. Photos courtesy of Saad Chishty

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Law Student from Germany Learns What Real Freedom Means While Helping the Wrongfully Convicted

I’m a 22 years old law student from Germany. As part of an international exchange program, I spent my last term doing a study abroad experience here at WMU-Cooley Law School. Coming to Michigan, and working with the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project, was an experience I will never forget – Anna-Lisa Benkhoff, Muenster University law student and WMU-Cooley Innocence Project intern

When I decided to come to America and attend WMU-Cooley Law School, I had no idea what kind of experiences it would bring. Growing up, I always sought out new opportunities and to challenge myself. I heard about the WMU-Innocence Project when I was looking into study abroad opportunities in the United States. I was excited about the idea that students got to work on actual criminal cases with real people who have been wronged. I especially like that I would learn practical knowledge and skills in the law.

The WMU-Cooley Innocence Project fights against wrongful convictions in post-conviction cases, using DNA-testing to prove innocence.

I spent much of my time in the law clinic working on one case. Our client was convicted of criminal sexual conduct in the first degree, involving two perpetrators. It was the first case I ever worked on and it was an unbelievable experience. I actually was able to meet our client in prison.

Once I got to meet him in person, I knew I was working for the right reasons. It means a lot to be able to help someone who has been wronged get out of prison.

Based on our work, the client was granted an evidentiary hearing on the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project’s motion under MCR 6.500. During the hearing, the judge heard our newly discovered evidence. From that evidence, the judge must decide whether to grant our client a new trial.

In addition to doing research to support the case, I wrote legal memos and assisted in preparing the case for litigation. I feel so proud that I helped to prepare the paperwork needed for our client’s evidentiary hearing. I helped to prepare a witness list and questions for direct and cross examinations.

 During the hearing, WMU-Cooley Innocence Project interns questioned witnessed on the stand – just like a real lawyer.

The evidentiary hearing took four days, and is now submitted to the court for a decision.

Even though I’m leaving the United States and the WMU-Cooley Innocence Project, I will continue to follow its important work. I had a such a great time and got to meet so many nice and very cool people. I now realize the hard work it takes to improve the criminal justice system. I would recommend this experience to anyone. Not only do you gain practical legal skills and experience, you have the privilege of doing something very important – saving someone from life imprisonment when they have been wrongfully convicted. It was unforgettable.

WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon and German International Exchange Program law student Anna-Lisa Benkhoff.

WMU-Cooley Innocence Project Director Marla Mitchell-Cichon and German International Exchange Program law student Anna-Lisa Benkhoff.

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