McDonald Pierangeli Macfarlane law firm is making its mark on the west Michigan community, offering, as they would say, a "small firm feel," with a "big firm experience." That's what WMU-Cooley graduate Jonathan Paasch liked about the firm when he first joined. It's the same feeling and experience he likes to say he had in law school. Yet Paasch didn't always want to be an attorney.
"I never thought that I had the ability to become a lawyer," recalled Paasch. "I wanted to be a police officer. I even remember drawing a picture of me in a police uniform in kindergarten, and I grew up planning to doing that. After high school, I made it through the police academy and graduated in 2001. I started working with lots of area agencies and the local sheriff’s department, and thought this was going to be my career; all signs pointed that way."
In an effort to advance that career, he went back to school to get his bachelor’s degree in business administration, with the ultimate plan to get his master’s degree in police administration.
Then Paasch suffered a back injury that had him seriously questioning his future in law enforcement.
"It was one of those moments when you start to think, 'Man, can I really push a cruiser for another 20 years, or do I need to find something else?'"
PUSHING RESET BUTTON
His answer was "probably not." Looking at all angles, Paasch kept coming back to the fact that he loved the idea of a legal career. In fact, it was the aspect of law enforcement that excited him the most.
"I loved figuring out the law and how it plugs into people’s everyday lives, and how you can use it to better a community, and how you can use the law as a tool to solve problems. And I can do this without the gun and badge. I can do this with a pen."
From there, it was only a matter of making sure his wife, Kate, embraced the idea, and finding the right law school; a law school that understood that he still worked full-time. That understanding atmosphere was even more important when Paasch found out during law school that he was going to be a father, which was a "bit of a surprise!"
The tour and people at WMU-Cooley ultimately gave him the support and confidence he needed to push his career reset button.
"I went for a tour at WMU-Cooley and had a great liaison to show me around and explain the flexible options and explain how it really was possible to be a working adult and complete the law program," shared Paasch. "I even reached out to one of the many police officers who have gone to WMU-Cooley and they said I could do it. One of them did the weekend program when he was a detective. So it pushed me to finish the program faster. I was able to graduate in a little over two years, and was hired right away. It truly was an evolving dream for me."
One lesson Paasch learned in law school that he follows to this day is to never put things off.
"Dean (Nelson) Miller gave me the best advice when I started law school. He knew I was busy, and he told me that the way to succeed is through being intentional and deliberate about your job and studying. I learned to follow a regimen so my assignment got done in a timely manner. I knew I couldn't put it off, because when you let yourself get behind you are always behind. That regimen translates into your career. As a litigator, the work can be very hectic. The training I received from WMU-Cooley, and those study habits have cemented successful work habits I can use throughout life."
One of the biggest things Paasch notices now in his legal career is the idea that people want attorneys who they can relate to. They want counselors who are in many ways "just like them." Someone who can truly understand their problems and concerns.
"Many of our clients have had the same walks of life that we have had. For instance, because I used to work construction and was a police officer, many of my clients feel comfortable sitting down and telling me their problems and concerns. And because I know about what they tell me, we are able to easily work through those problems."
That real-life attorney essence, according to Paasch, is what he says his alma mater is all about. "A real-life law school for real-life people, where you will learn those practical skills that allow you to succeed in the practice of law."
"It goes back to teaching more than just the theory of law, but teaching the practical side of law and how it applies to people’s lives. You will better understand how you can use the law as a tool to resolve issues and conflicts. That's why a WMU-Cooley education is so relevant today and sought out by those in our communities. Our clients are talking to somebody that they see during their day, and that person happens to be a lawyer, versus someone who lives in a big office in an ivory tower somewhere."
Paasch's FIVE top takeaways
- Practice-ready graduates: "When I was coming to WMU-Cooley I heard that a lot, which is absolutely true. I didn’t realize how much that was true until other people who came from other places said they learned the theories and ideas of law, which is great, but if you want actual practice ready training, where your boss can ask you to write a brief, summary for motion disposition, and have an idea of what they’re talking about, go to WMU-Cooley Law School. While other schools may practice the theory of law, WMU-Cooley specializes in teaching the practical application of the law. I remember the first time that I was practicing, and it was my turn to argue my own motion that I had drafted. I had my bar card for maybe a week, and I’m going to Wayne County where there are 60-70 seasoned attorneys waiting for a motion call. There you are standing in front of a judge next to an attorney who has been doing this for a number of years. Luckily I went to WMU-Cooley where they teach the practical side of legal education. Not only was I was able to put a compelling argument on the record, I also made a successful motion. I don’t think that happens with every law school, but it happens all the time with WMU-Cooley law graduates."
- Flexible scheduling: "Decades ago, it was only the elite who were able to go to law school. You either had parents or other support to send you to law school, and that was your only job. That doesn’t exist anymore. People don't have the luxury to put life on hold for three years to get a law degree. WMU-Cooley has always recognized that, and that real people are the ones going to law school to become real lawyers. The law school gives everyone the opportunity to apply a real-life schedule to a real-life applicable program. There’s evening classes, morning, afternoon; and you can work with your professors to make sure you are getting your work done so that you will be successful when you come out of this school. I don’t think that’s applied at any other law school."
- Student network: "One of my favorite things to do during law school was to build my network because I knew that I would still have those relationships after graduation, and benefit from a very large network of attorneys. And that network is there. Over 20,000 graduates worldwide. I benefit daily. I don't have to wonder who am I going to call, or who I need to get a referral from; I can reach out to a friend and colleague that another graduate has worked with all through law school. We have that referral network from day one. I think that is another value you get as a graduate of WMU-Cooley. In my mind there is no typical WMU-Cooley student; there isn’t one. We have students from every walk of life. The diversity of the law school is one of the greatest aspects of the school. I can sit down anywhere and listen to someone who walked a totally different path than I did. That experience is now in my toolbox when I represent a client. I may be able to offer some empathy, or I may be able to understand what someone might be going through because I learned with that person. It makes for a much richer educational experience."
- Advocacy: "From day one at WMU-Cooley, advocacy is drilled into us. You talk to any of the professors and you realize quickly that they have all been attorneys that have practiced for a number of years before teaching. You immediately get a sense of their energy and advocacy; they instill in you the want to represent and fight for a client. It’s always been said if you find what you love, the money will follow, and that’s so true. If you find yourself being an advocate and solving problems for the people you serve, the rest is going to take care of itself."
- Pick your field: "Everyday I run across another WMU-Cooley graduate doing some pretty amazing. You will see them as appellate court justices, prosecutors, top-tier criminal defense attorneys, small family practice attorneys, insurance attorneys; nearly every aspect that WMU-Cooley reflects. The best thing about WMU-Cooley is you can come in and it will be a mirror for you, and you will get the legal education that you desire, no matter what that might be. If you want to be a federal prosecutor or judge, you will be in good company. Just count how many judges there are in this area alone that are WMU-Cooley grads. You will need both hands! It’s crazy. If you want to be a civil practitioner, WMU-Cooley will help you get there. If you want to climb the big ladder to the big firm and the corner office, WMU-Cooley is going to get you there as well. It really is all about what you want to get out of it. WMU-Cooley is the perfect place to go for a real person to go to get a real education.