WMU-Cooley is a great place at which to learn how to be a lawyer.
One reason is that our students have uncommon ability to observe good lawyers and good judges at work by attending the many hearings of trial and appellate courts we host at our campuses.
The most recent example is a session of the Florida Second District Court of Appeal held at our Tampa Bay campus on September 23, 2014. Chief Judge Charles A. Davis, Judge Chris W. Alterbernd, and Judge Nelly N. Khouzam presided over oral argument in three separate appeals. Students witnessed the arguments and had the opportunity to meet and speak with the judges about the cases. Click here for more about this session of court.
It’s no wonder that National Jurist magazine recently ranked WMU-Cooley as one of the nation’s best law schools for practical legal training. In fact, we ranked higher than any other law school in our home states of Michigan and Florida.
See WMU-Cooley on the web at cooley.edu.
Susan Zuiderveen is a third-year Cooley student serving on an externship. This is the seventh post in Susan’s outstanding series.
We have all heard how hard it will be to get a job in the legal field once we graduate. As I am getting closer to graduation, it is now starting to worry me. We work so hard to obtain our legal education and skills that it would be disappointing not to find the position we have our hearts set on.
Many times our professors and mentors have told us how important networking is in obtaining that first position. I always knew it was important, but I have not had the time to dedicate to networking like I need to. My externship has given me the chance to network with others working directly in the legal field. I have been amazed at the wonderful people I have met and how willing they are to help in any way they can. Not only have I met four wonderful judges, but I have met prosecuting attorneys, criminal defense attorneys, probation officers, sheriff deputies, and law clerks. All have helped me with anything I have needed while working at my externship, but so many have also given me great advice and names of people they know that may help me get a position as a prosecuting attorney. Our county does not have any open positions at this time, but it is wonderful having them for a reference if one does open up or if there is a position in one of the surrounding counties. I have also had the chance to meet and talk to several attorneys from different firms. Some I have seen on a weekly basis, and I know I could call them for questions or advice after graduation.
I underestimated how important an externship can be in helping achieve that first position. Plan to do your externship in the city you want to work in, and use it to help establish a network of people you can call for advice or who may hire you. I was amazed at how happy people are to help those of us entering the field they know and love. Don’t underestimate the opportunites your externship can provide in bettering the odds of getting that first position we are all working so hard for!
Here are the wonderful things that Lloyd E. Powell, the Public Defender of Washtenaw County, Michigan, says about Cooley students and the experience they receive as interns with his office:
Upwards of 85% of all criminal and juvenile cases both nationally and locally involve indigent defendants to some degree. Most of those cases are handled by public defenders as a mandated constitutional requirement.
Consistent with that requirement, the 40 year-old Office of Public Defender (http://publicdefender.ewashtenaw.org) regularly handles the overwhelming majority of all criminal and juvenile cases throughout Washtenaw Count. We are the first choice for appointment by the courts. Naturally, our Washtenaw County Prosecutor (or a village, township, or city attorney) is always our adversary in the courtroom as we all seek collaboratively to ferret out the truth accurately in pursuit of justice.
Due in part to our heavy caseload, veteran Cooley law professor Norm Fell and I collaborated many years ago to establish a very special “Trial Lawyer Practical Experience Program” in which Cooley Law School students intern with us as student trial lawyers. Over the ensuing years, hundreds of outstanding Cooley interns have provided invaluable assistance to our dedicated staff of 15 veteran public defenders. Cooley students are fully integrated extensions of our staff lawyers, functioning as:
- student trial lawyers
- skilled researchers and
- invaluable teachers and trainers of other incoming volunteers.
As student trial lawyers, Cooley students actively participate in
- sentencing hearings
- probation violations
- personal protection orders
- Friend of the Court matters
- bond reduction hearings and
Our program gives Cooley students the great opportunity to:
- interview, counsel, and represent indigent defendants
- engage in the practice of law under the supervision of experienced attorneys
- appear in court frequently
- work with a highly skilled group of attorneys who have been trained to be outstanding supervisors and mentors
- polish public speaking skills
- work in a collegial, cooperative atmosphere with other students
- apply the legal theories learned in the classroom to real cases with live clients and
- engage in negotiations and conversations with prosecuting attorneys in the community.
Cooley interns also participate actively in a wide array of investigative research and studies. Those activities encompass:
- the adequate and accurate recording of events, codes, and data in case files and computers for important appeals where appropriate
- timely determination of conflicts of interests
- assessing the reliability and accuracy of related identifications
- sequential memorializing of events and procedures related thereto
- improvement of the use of information technology to enhance quality and cost effectiveness
- accurate recording of interviews of clients and witnesses
- analyses of police reports
- productive visits to crime scenes to gather available facts
- informed counseling to clients for a more realistic evaluation of their cases and
- determination of alternative case dispositions that include the availability of alcohol and drug abuse therapy, educational opportunities, and the resolution of family problems.
Cooley student interns and externs over the years have been signally outstanding. That is why we always look forward to assisting them with excellent recommendations and to actually hiring them as permanent members of our staff whenever there is an opportunity to do so.
Lloyd E. Powell
Washtenaw County Public Defender