Q&A with Mariko Willis: Military and Law School at the Center of Her Heart

WMU-Cooley, as a Military friendly and designated Yellow Ribbon School, talks to its military students, faculty and graduates about their journey from the military to law school and about their career goals. This blog features WMU-Cooley law student Mariko C. Willis. Mariko has recently been selected to be a Marine Corps Staff Sergeant.

Q: Why did you decide to go to law school and why did you choose WMU-Cooley?

A: After obtaining his Bachelor’s Degree at Western Michigan University, my father went to the University of Florida law school and, at age 29, was appointed by the governor as Judge in Van Buren County, Michigan. He is the youngest Judge in Michigan history, as well as the longest-serving probate Judge in Michigan, serving for over 38.5 years, retiring in 2015.  Following in his footsteps, my older brothers, Michael and Shaun Willis, both became attorneys and now practice in Michigan as well.  As a child, it was my intent to also go to law school; however, after my other brother (a Marine), Christopher Willis, died in a car accident shortly after his return from Iraq in 2003, I switched gears and joined the Marine Corps in my brother’s honor.

Q: Can you walk us through your career accomplishments to date?

A: I joined the Marines in 2003, splitting an 8-year contract between reserve and active duty orders.  I was honorably discharged in 2011 and then continued my education obtaining a bachelors degree of science in business management.  After being out of the service for three years, I decided to re-enlist in the United States Marine Corps Reserves in 2014, at the same time deciding to pursue my education at WMU Thomas M. Cooley Law School.  I am in my second year of law school and currently have a total of 10 years in the Marine Corps. My decision to re-enlist in the military was an easy one – it has been at the center of my heart since I first joined in honor of my brother.  My decision to go to WMU Cooley was based not only on proximity, but due to my desire to practice in the Grand Rapids area upon passing the Bar.  I also serve as the Chief Operations Officer for the Corporal Christopher Kelly Willis Foundation (the “Willis Foundation”), which my brothers and I established in honor of our deceased brother.  The Willis Foundation provides college scholarships to children who have lost a parent (or whose parent has been permanently disabled) in a combat zone.  To date, we have awarded 14 scholarships to Michigan children, many from the Grand Rapids area.  It is our belief that these children have also given the ultimate sacrifice.

Q: What are your career goals?

A: I am fully dedicated to continuing my education, fulfilling my military obligations, ensuring that children of our fallen heroes are taken care of through the Willis Foundation, and being the absolute best mother I can be to my son, Tyson (6 years old).  As an attorney, I hope to make strides in the legal profession for the benefit of Veterans in the Southwest Michigan area.  I also hope to assist my brothers and sisters in arms on a pro bono basis, dedicating at least 10% of my practice to the men and women who have served our country honorably.  My current plans are to extern in the Van Buren County Prosecutor’s Office (the very first place my father worked out of law school), and then join my two brothers at Willis Law (the law firm they established in 2004).

Q: Would you mind telling us about yourself outside of law school? 

A: As a single mother, attending law school, working as a law clerk, serving in the military and volunteering for the Willis Foundation, I rarely have free time!  However, when I do have some time to spare, I enjoy spending time with my son, Tyson, my parents, my siblings and my nieces and nephews.  Other hobbies include shooting/marksmanship, hunting, bass fishing, softball leagues, reading, and traveling. I am a member of the Kalamazoo Rod and Gun Club, Ducks Unlimited and the National Rifle Association.

 Note: This blog was originally published on July 14, 2016.