Tag Archives: legal profession

Students in Sixty Plus Clinic Reflect on Their Great Experiences

Kimberly E. O'Leary

Kimberly E. O’Leary is professor of law and director of WMU-Cooley’s Sixty Plus. Inc. Elderlaw Clinic.  She is a national leader in clinical education, including having served as chair of the Association of American Law Schools Section on Clinical Legal Education.  Prof. O’Leary writes that “My students are the bright light in the room, always, for me.” She shares with us some of her students’ reflections about their Sixty Plus Clinic experience.

One student noted the feelings a clinical student goes through:
It was like a switch clicked and all of a sudden you know what you’re doing.  The most important skill is patience – with clients, with learning, with systems.  The first term, I had PTSD:  post traumatic supervisory disorder.  It’s all about time and how to manage it.
Here are important realizations from another student:
They actually valued my opinions and my ideas.  I realized I can do it.  I realized certain areas I need to improve.  I learned how you can become the lawyer you want to be.
Another student learned that there is plenty of room for good lawyers, especially those who can work as part of a team:

I heard there’s too many lawyers.  There’s NOT too many lawyers.  Instead, there are so many people who could benefit from a lawyer who don’t have access to one.

Good lawyers find a way to get paid to help people who need them.

There’s work to be done.

I learned a lot about the elderly.

I’ve always been independent. I was nervous about working in a team.

I’ve learned how to work with people in a professional setting.

Yet another offered practical suggestions to future clinical students at the Law School:

·         Write down new ideas so you don’t forget them.

·         Be confident in your role as a lawyer.

·         Act like you know what you’re doing.

·         You don’t have to write a lot to write something good.

·         It’s OK to smile.

Here are some gems:
Silence is OK, and sometimes it is necessary.  I can interact with a client.  I can be creative, think outside the box.  I learned that issues often intertwine.  Knowing where to start . . . .  Explaining the law to clients.  Huge boost of confidence.  Preparation is key.

This student realized that a lawyer sometimes encounters difficult clients:

The client sometimes changes her goals.

After we communicated, the client who initially felt lost instead felt relief and appreciated what I had done for her.

I learned it is OK to ask for help.

Sometimes it is best to gracefully withdraw when you think a client is being unethical.

This student loved the experience of working with colleagues:
I loved bouncing ideas back and forth, exploring issues, putting everything together, getting different perspectives from classmates.  I learned better ways of communication and the importance of staying organized.
And this student exclaimed how she has learned what she wants to do upon graduation, adding some practice pointers for us:

·         This experience led me to my passion.

·         I want to be a solo practitioner in estate planning.

·         Discussing your ultimate wishes is a favor to your family.

·         I want to do Medicaid planning.


·         Don’t take anything at face value.  Investigate.

·         Take deep breaths, and rub your temples.

·         Opinion letters are your best friend.

·         Remember the grand scheme of things.

These students performed admirably in the clinic, learning not only the law but how to serve their clients with skill and compassion.  WMU-Cooley Law School is proud of their achievements.  If you haven’t yet taken your clinic or externship, a valuable and exciting time awaits you.  If you have, please share your experiences with us by commenting below or writing us at alumni@cooley.edu.

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What It Means to Love the Law

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law

By Nelson P. Miller

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law, offers a very personal and insightful perspective on the law.

It is hard to know if many lawyers reach this point in a law career.  Lawyer media report no surveys.  Yet the other day I realized, with no specific inspiration, that I love the law.

Any self-respecting lawyer would push the thought aside as inanity.  To love the law is way too sentimental, when law and its practice have very little to do with sentiment.  The legal mind, law profession, and lawyer’s spirit are practical and pragmatic.  Most lawyers barely allow room for emotion, and when we do, the emotions tend to be hard, like fear and conviction, rather than sweetly sentimental.

Yet for days, the thought of loving the law pursued me, filling the silent interstices between researching, writing, reviewing documents, and fielding client inquiries.  (I am a law professor and dean but retain the privilege of pro bono work.)  The thought of deeply loving what one does began brightening day after day of it, tempered only slightly by the fear that loving it might mean losing it sooner rather than later.  (Fear is a trial lawyer’s natural emotion from which we draw that indispensable trial-lawyer resource: courage.)

Most lawyers are wise enough to love law’s practice, meaning the interaction with clients, lawyers, witnesses, experts, and court staff.  What cold heart would not appreciate routine relationship with so rich a cast of needful, ambitious, humorous, and unique characters?  It can take some time, but lawyers even learn to love judges—on any day other than one misspent losing a motion.

Nearly all lawyers also love the engagement that law practice brings, not just to know a community’s problems like reading a local newspaper but to solve those problems.  Lawyers pursue a community’s possibilities rather than merely speculate about them.  Lawyers love doing, from attacking the horror of human trafficking all the way to negotiating public bond financing for a hospital authority.  What pitiable professional soul could remain indifferent to such terrible problems and profound possibilities?

The public thinks lawyers love the money.  The remuneration that necessarily flows from law practice can carry its own small satisfaction.  After all, earning one’s keep and the keep of one’s family are first responsibilities.  Should we not find modest solace in it?  Yet lawyers know that the lawyer who loves money pursues a relentless, untrustworthy, and discredited master.  Loving the law is not the same as loving its profit.  Far from it.

To love the law means more than to love its practice or profit.  Think of the law itself, stripped of its people and purposes.  Loving the law entails discerning law’s sensitivity, how well the law listens and responds to people and purposes.  Loving the law entails discerning law’s power, to which not just parties and their lawyers but also judges and officials must bend.  Most of all, loving the law entails discerning law’s source, as the Declaration says in inalienable rights granted from God rather than government.  Few things could deserve greater devotion.

In the end, loving the law may not be sentimental but sacrificial.  Loving the law requires bending one’s own naturally selfish ways to the selfless way of a gloriously jealous but nonetheless perfect master.  Maybe more lawyers, indeed all lawyers whether emerging or experienced, should love the law unashamedly.  Sure, keep priorities in order.  Love God, kin, and country before career, even when the career is a satisfying law practice.  Yet loving the law can come very close to loving something and someone much greater.  What a good day it is to be a lawyer.

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“You Can’t Say that About Law School”

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law

By Nelson P. Miller

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law, notes a distinction between business school and law school. 

The Wall Street Journal reported recently that Zillow CEO Spencer Rascoff, who did not earn an M.B.A. before taking the corner office at his multi-billion-dollar company, said about B-school, “It’s just a really expensive way to take a break.”

You sure can’t say the same about law school.

Mr. Rascoff’s quote is plainly a headline grabber.   In context, he meant that some who go to business school do not belong there.  And he added that your work finding a job in business begins in earnest as soon as you enter business school.  In that respect at least, business school is no walk in the park.

But his quote nonetheless highlights interesting contrasts between business school and law school.

Mr. Rascoff himself is proof that you can succeed at the highest levels in business without an M.B.A.  Zillow is a remarkably complex and successful business.  Mr. Rascoff earned his top job there.

Yet the same is not true for opportunity in law without a J.D. degree.  You cannot go anywhere in law without the J.D. degree that remains the gold standard for any career law-related.

Law school is also no break.  Law school is arduous for a reason.  Its purpose is to create for students an effective new mind and professional persona, while preserving and even amplifying the best of their social ambitions.

You cannot accomplish so much while on a break from life.    Personal excellence is the product of challenge.  Character is the product of striving.  Law school pushes students to achieve things that they know are worthwhile but may think are not necessarily possible.  The best of programs then give students the support and guidance to accomplish the seemingly impossible.

Business school is worthwhile.  Business is fascinating and important.  Business careers are desirable and meaningful much in the same way that law careers are desirable and meaningful.  Business school is also harder than Mr. Rascoff’s out-of-context quote makes it seem.

Yet some truth still lies latent in the contrast.  Few if any law students graduate after coasting.  The coasters leave after the first term or year.  The graduates are those who persevere.

The education’s goals demand it.  Law school must transform students.  To be effective, law school must make lawyers different from non-lawyers.  Lawyers must be deeper, more grounded, more knowledgeable, wiser, sounder, and more discerning.  They must know the ways of business and the rest of the social world while being able to stand just apart from those ways in order to be able to judge them.  Lawyers must be able to help their clients study and shape their circumstances to redeem themselves out of those circumstances.

Law school has too much to accomplish for its students to allow any coasters.  Law school cannot suffer fools gladly.  Law is serious business, the kind of weighty matter that lawyers just hunger to shoulder and carry for their clients.

Taken properly, Mr. Rascoff’s message is a sound one.  Not everyone belongs in business school, just as not everyone belongs in law school.  Both schools have their place.  Both schools share some goals.  They are also rather fundamentally different in their aims.  Appreciate both schools, and know their differences.

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America’s Newest Superhero: “Mamattorney”

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law

By Nelson P. Miller

Recent reports indicate that mothers are now the sole or primary breadwinner in 40% of American households, a long-term demographic trend that the Great Recession accelerated.  Over 60% of those breadwinner moms are single parents.  Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law, notes how one particular Cooley graduate, Tamsen Horton, has in a very creative way developed a means to deliver legal services to working mothers. 

Breadwinning mothers face unusual time and resource challenges as they take on greater responsibility for the economic security of their households.  Social norms do not necessarily change as quickly as household demographics.  Working mothers must balance new financial and legal responsibilities with the rewarding but time-consuming demands of traditional child-rearing and household roles.

The multiple demands on working mothers and particularly single moms can leave those households in precarious position when challenged by common crises.  The breadwinner’s short-term illness, a child’s special needs, an elderly parent’s disability, or a motor-vehicle accident or home fire threaten those households with severe disruption and even complete demise, especially when the working mother did not prepare for crisis.  What can we do for these fragile homes?  Who can possibly help? 

Mamattorney to the Rescue

Cooley J.D. and Tax LL.M. alumna Tamsen Horton operates her burgeoning law practice Vuja De Law specifically to serve 25 to 40 year-old working mothers.  Tamsen is herself a working mother, married and with a preschool child.  She knows what she calls the “pain points” working mothers face trying to maintain and promote a stable and prosperous home. 

Take as an example a temporary power of attorney for guardianship of a minor.  Some families need such powers of attorney for school programs, family travel, and the like.  Or take as another example a financial power of attorney for an elderly parent.  These common legal documents can help a working mother manage a household and avert severe crises.

“How though, is my working-mom client going to consult with me to get the documents prepared and signed?” Tamsen asks.  “Her job keeps her from seeing me until after work.  But if she is not home at 5 p.m., then no one gets fed, and no homework gets done.”

Mamattorney’s solution?  “We just arrange a Google chat from home to home.  My virtual law practice solves her pain point.  The documents get done, and my working-mother client has the critical household-management documents in place.”  Mamattorney to the rescue.


Tamsen also calls herself a Mamapreneur. Entrepreneurial she is, following entrepreneurship’s rules that you must know your clients, create value for those clients, reach sizeable client populations, and communicate value to those clients.  Tamsen knows her paradigm client mom so well that she says she even pictures her features.

Entrepreneurship involves personal and professional identity.  Tamsen knows her gift for seeing paradigms and then shifting them.  She connects those gifts to her law practice.  The name of her law practice Vuja De is a twist on deja vu, meaning not to experience something over again but instead to take a new perspective.

Tamsen indeed finds new perspectives.  In addition to her concept of pain points, her virtual practice, and her innovative use of home video-conference capabilities, she developed the concept that her working-mom clients each have a life footprint.  “Carbon footprints?” Tamsen asks rhetorically, continuing, “My working-mom clients care most about their life footprints.  My family law, business-planning and estate-planning services help working mothers discern, organize, enrich, and protect the multiple intersecting dimensions of their complex lives.”

Tamsen gladly shares her law practice insights with Cooley students and graduates.  In fact, she developed a website and consulting service My J.D., My Terms to help students and recent graduates discern their distinct career paths, drawing on their unique personal and professional identity.  She uses the same entrepreneurial principles that inform her law practice to guide students and recent graduates in their own paths.

My Kid, My Plan

True to her law firm’s name, Tamsen is always searching for the fresh paradigm to communicate new value to her clients.  When she was trying to help her working-mom clients connect early estate planning with their commitment to their children, she borrowed her My J.D., My Terms concept to come up with My Kid, My Plan.

No service or identity detail is too small for Tamsen to consider or re-consider in improving her law practice.  Logo design, website colors, the location of her pricing information—Tamsen thinks constantly of how her clients react as sophisticated consumers to the way in which she offers them critical law services.

For Tamsen, it is Vuja De all over again, in itself a constantly fresh paradigm.

For more information on serving emerging client populations, see the Cooley law practice books Entrepreneurial Practice:  Enterprise Skills for Lawyers Serving Emerging Client Populations and Lawyers as Economic Drivers:  The Business Case for Legal ServicesCooley’s four Law Practice courses in Business Development, Technology, Finance, and Management help students sharpen their entrepreneurial skills.


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Professions Moving in Opposite Directions

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law

Nelson P. Miller, Associate Dean for the Grand Rapids Campus and Professor of Law

By Nelson P. Miller

Associate Dean, Grand Rapids Campus

The medical profession and law profession are moving in opposite directions.

Hospital systems, healthcare insurers, or hybrid entities like managed-care organizations have been hiring physicians at record pace.  Fewer new physicians enter private medical practices, especially solo practices, where they would get to know and care long-term for individual patients.  More physicians work directly for massive corporate employers within regulatory and business systems that influence, dictate, and constrain care.  With this trend, the day of the family doctor passes quietly.  We now administer our own healthcare through networks of labs, clinics, and specialists, or rely on family members, social workers, and nursing homes to do so for us.  Medicine is no longer about access to a doctor.  Our medical care depends instead on our ability to move timely and efficiently from service provider to service provider with the right healthcare program and personal health information.

While medicine becomes centralized, law decentralizes.  Corporate clients see inefficiencies in the centralized cost structures of large law firms.  Large downtown offices under expensive leases, filled with layers of lawyers and non-lawyer staff, seem no longer so necessary.  Unlike hospitals and healthcare, law firms do not depend on huge pieces of medical-imaging equipment, expensive surgical suites, or even electronically monitored bed wards.  Lawyers now work productively anywhere an electronic signal reaches.  Law firms now assign lawyers to work in their corporate clients’ offices and permit other lawyers to telecommute.  Law firms maintain show offices in city centers but move the workforce to less-expensive warehouses and suburbs.  Large firms either get larger in order to offer more clients more offices in more locations or get smaller in order to serve fewer clients in narrower niches more locally.

Likewise, while medicine becomes a faceless set of technical procedures, law instead depends more than ever on the individual lawyer’s practice and presence.  Both individuals and corporations want and need trusted advisors.  They need individual lawyers who see their lives and concerns holistically, helping them make informed judgments while awash in masses of data in seas of uncertainty.  As information explodes and finance, business, sales, trade, employment, and regulation grow exponentially more complex, more procedures and information simply will not do.  To make sense of lives, relationships, trends, interests, and events, clients instead need individual counselors wise in the world’s ways.  Clients need face time with their lawyer.

New lawyers sense and grab this opportunity.  New law graduates return to school with eyes wide, sharing stories about the help they were immediately able to provide individual and corporate clients facing complex problems.  They know the satisfaction of supplying individual expertise at critical moments in their clients’ concerns.  They see the client wealth and welfare that their counsel preserves, promotes, and generates.  Before long, they will have the pleasure of witnessing the rising arc of their clients’ lives and interests long term, as their own practices grow and mature in step with their long-term clients.  This opposite trend makes me glad to be a lawyer and not a doctor.  Nothing against medical practice, but law practice looks pretty good right now.

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Major Legal Employment Study Shows Law Graduate Employment Better Than Expected

Cooley’s logo

Cooley Law School has released a series of reports on legal employment in the United States.  The purpose of this study is to insert the nation’s most authoritative data into the public dialogue about the national legal employment picture.  Cooley invites you to comment to this blog.

Much of the current discussion in the media and on the blogs about employment in the legal profession is unsubstantiated, anecdotal, misleading, and incorrect.  Cooley Law School thus decided to study the subject based upon the most authoritative data that can be found — data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the National Association for Law Placement (NALP).  The study is presented in two reports.

Report One covers the national employment data compiled by the BLS.  It establishes that employment for lawyers grew during the past decade, even during the recession, and that the environment in the legal profession that awaits law school graduates reflects relatively full employment, particularly in comparison to other professional and management occupations.

Among the BLS top ten management and professional occupational subcategories, employment in legal occupations was bettered only by those employed as healthcare practitioners and technicians.  Lawyers are among the occupations least affected by the recent recession.

Report Two puts into perspective public discussion about the employment outlook for recent graduates from ABA-accredited law schools by placing NALP data for those graduates a 10-year context.  It explains why the employment data used by NALP to establish employment and unemployment rates among recent graduates is both accurate and reliable.  (The 2011 NALP report data has not been released publicly. We will update the report for 2011 once the data is public.)  Report Two concludes that, contrary to the perception advanced by certain media and blogs, the employment rate is very good for law school graduates.

The unemployment rate for 2010 law school graduates who sought to enter the job market was 6.2 percent, and these graduates overwhelmingly obtained full-time professional employment.  While the job market is more challenging now than three years ago, within nine months of graduation around 90.5 percent of the newly-minted lawyers either found employment or entered graduate school.  Of this employed group, 96.7 percent of them reported having found professional employment, and 90.2 percent of those professional positions were full time.

Reports One and Two contradict the assertions that are widespread on blogs and in a segment of the media regarding the employment situation for lawyers, refuting the notion that unemployment among current lawyers and law school graduates is high.  Looking at the data in this context highlights the invalid assumptions and faulty logic in the arguments used by the critics and shows that their conclusions are inaccurate and misleading.  Rather, the facts overwhelmingly discredit these assertions.  Legal education is actually one of the best choices for a career.

Read these reports and tell us what you think by commenting to this blog site.  Also see our media release on the topic.  For more information about Cooley, see generally our website.


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Aging of Michigan’s Lawyer Base Portends Job Growth

Cooley President and Dean, Don LeDuc

The Graying of Michigan’s Lawyers

By Don LeDuc

President and Dean

Thomas M. Cooley Law School

Most students entering law school in 2012 will graduate in 2015.  By then, a significant demographic factor will come into play regarding the job market.  That factor is the aging Michigan lawyer.

  • More than half of Michigan’s active resident lawyers are 50 years old or older.  And Michigan data show that more lawyers are leaving the practice of law in Michigan than the law schools produce.

  • The result is that, starting very soon, Michigan will not produce the number of law school graduates sufficient to replace the number now leaving the profession through retirement, death, and other employment.

  • This portends well for job growth in Michigan.

The Premise for This Analysis         

The premise of the following analysis is fairly simple: Michigan will not produce the number of law school graduates sufficient to replace the number now leaving the profession through retirement, death, and other employment.  A good way to think about this globally is to consider it the reverse of the much-discussed coming social security crisis brought on by the burgeoning retirement of the aging baby boomers.  They are beginning to retire in large numbers, and while each retiree becomes a social security burden, each one leaves a job and contributes to a growing demand for replacement employees.  Some of those needed replacement employees, of course, will have to be lawyers.

The Source of the Data

This analysis will focus on Michigan and is based on data taken from a 2011 three-part demographics report issued by the State Bar of Michigan using 2010 data.  The report looks at the Michigan lawyer membership by age-group, with the demographics in the report based upon the age profile in 2010.  According to the report, in 2010 there were 33,492 active Michigan resident members of the Michigan bar.  The members of the bar are now one year older, but this analysis will not take that into effect except as specifically noted.

More Than Half of Michigan’s Lawyers Are 50 Years Old or Older 

Among active Michigan resident members, 11.1% were born before 1944 (these 3,716 lawyers are called “traditionalists” in the bar report).  Another 42.3% were born in 1944-60 (the 14,155 so-called “boomers”), meaning that a combined 53.4% were born before 1961.  The youngest of the traditionalists will be 69 in 2012. The youngest of the boomers will be 52. 

According to a more detailed breakdown of the age cohorts elsewhere in the State Bar report, 55.6% of the active Michigan resident members were 50 years old or older in 2010.  The Bar reports that 9,918 members are 60 or over, which is 29.6% of its active members.  Another 8,724 active members are in the 50 to 59 age group, constituting another 26.0% of the active membership in Michigan.       

The implications of this aging membership for the job market are significant, if not alarming.  Over the next twenty years, most of these lawyers will be gone from practice.  And, presumably, most of those who were 60 or older at the time of the State Bar’s report will retire in the next ten years. 

That means that as many as 9,918 lawyer replacements will be needed within a decade (this presumes that the number who will not retire will be balanced by about the same number of those in younger age categories who will leave membership).  For the 60 and over group, the assumption is that about one-tenth will retire each year beginning in 2011.  So, on average, about 992 lawyers will be needed each year in the next decade, just to replace these older lawyers.

Another 8,724 lawyers were age 50 to 59 at the time of the survey in 2010.  Assuming that these lawyers are evenly spread within this ten-year cohort, about 872 are in each year’s group.  Further assuming that each group will retire at age 67, the first of this group will reach retirement in 2018, adding about 872 lawyers per year to the 992 lawyers from the older group for approximately a three-year period, meaning that the demand will grow to 1,864 for the years 2018 to 2020.

An alternative calculation would be that over the next 20 years, we will need 18,642 new lawyers just to replace the current members leaving practice due to age.  That is an average of 932 per year.  

Another study established that Michigan experienced its heaviest periods of bar admissions in the years between 1975 and 1994.  In that twenty-year period, new admissions by examination totaled 22,409, with 11,746 in the first ten-year period and 10,663 in the second.  The first of these increased admissions reaches its 40th anniversary in 2015.  Given that the average age of lawyers passing the bar is approximately 27, heavy retirement numbers can be expected from this group.  Needed replacements will average 1,175 for the first ten years and 1,066 for the second ten years.  On average over the twenty years after 2015, Michigan will need 1,120 new lawyers to replace those admitted in between 1974 and 1994. 

More Lawyers Are Leaving the Practice Than the Schools Produce 

Under either alternative, more lawyers will be leaving active practice than the schools currently produce or have produced over the past fifteen years.  The aging Michigan lawyer population leaves a legacy of jobs for those about to enter law school.  The opportunities are widespread with 65 of Michigan’s 83 counties showing a lawyer population of 50 years or older that is above the state average, and with 55 of the counties having 60% or more of their lawyers who are at least 50 years old.

Contrary to the assertion that there are too many lawyers because the law schools are now producing too many graduates, and consistent with the fact that new admissions by examination in Michigan have declined significantly throughout the past fifteen years, Michigan’s active resident lawyer population consists of lawyers who are 40 and over and is dominated by those who are 50 or older.  The current Michigan resident member population includes only 21.8% who are under 40 years of age, and those under 30 are only 4.6% of the Michigan lawyers.  Even in the counties with law schools, the percentage of lawyers under 40 is low:  Ingham with two law schools is at 25.0%, Kent with one law school is at 24.8%, Oakland with one law school is 22.7%, Washtenaw with two law schools is at 19.6%, and Wayne with two law schools is at 22.6%.

These demographics, and others to be discussed in later blog posts, portend job growth for lawyers in Michigan.

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