You want to go to law school because you want to do more, you want to help others … you want to make a DIFFERENCE! Lawyers have the opportunity almost daily to practice their craft and change the lives of other human beings for the better. At Western Michigan University Cooley Law School, this kind of service is a core principle — during and beyond law school — because we think giving back makes better lawyers and better people.
WMU-Cooley Law School is nationally recognized for its focus on practical legal training, pro bono efforts, and its award-winning clinics and professors. Every day, our law students, faculty, and staff contribute to a range of pro bono community services to help others in need and through the work they do in our for-credit clinics. Both our pro bono opportunities and our experiential learning programs, teach students what it really means to be an ethical lawyer, giving citizen, and how to make a difference in the lives of others.
Here’s a look at just a few of the many clinics and pro bono opportunities available to students across WMU-Cooley campuses.
FIGHTING TO RIGHT WRONGS
No amount of money can make up for all that is lost from a wrongful conviction. And no experience can be more gratifying than being a part of freeing an innocent person from prison. That's exactly what WMU-Cooley Innocence Project students and faculty are doing. WMU-Cooley began its Innocence Project as a clinic in 2001, soon after Michigan's post-conviction DNA testing law became effective. Since then, the clinic's tireless efforts have exonerated four individuals: Kenneth Wyniemko (2003), Nathaniel Hatchett (2008), Donya Davis (2014), and LeDura Watkins, who served almost 42 years for crimes he didn’t commit (2017). Students in the clinic screen applications, investigate facts, conduct interviews, analyze cases, prepare court pleadings, and even represent clients in court.
St. Michael’s Legal Center for Women and Children Inc. is a great volunteer opportunity for Tampa Bay campus students who want to help others and get exposure to family law cases, including bankruptcy, paternity, child support, parenting plans, timesharing, related foreclosure defense, and other services. SMLC began in 2006 and serves persons in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, and Citrus, Florida counties. The Center is based on the premise that “For any great society to sustain itself, its legal system must be open and accessible to all.” Its mission is to help those who otherwise could not get or afford legal assistance.
The Tampa Bay campus also has a Debt Relief Clinic that provides debt-related legal assistance on issues arising from past-due medical/hospital bills, loans, predatory lending, unfair/abusive collections practices for under-served individuals in Hillsborough County, Florida.
Another Tampa Bay campus-area service opportunity for student volunteers is Florida’s Children First, a pro bono non-profit organization founded by child-advocacy attorneys from across the state to improve the ways at-risk children are served within welfare, protective services, foster care, and other state systems. Through the work of volunteer and pro bono attorneys and law students, it helps to uphold the rights of children who often fall through the cracks; like the disabled, mentally ill and those in the juvenile justice system. Among the many ways the FCF serves at-risk children is by using “legislative and policy advocacy, executive branch education and advocacy, training and technical assistance to lawyers and guardians ad litem representing children, public awareness, and filing of amicus briefs as strategies to improve child-serving systems.”
Law students at the Auburn Hills campus can also volunteer to help those whose lives are turned upside down by domestic violence and sexual assault by serving at Haven in Oakland County, Michigan. Haven has been creating a safe place for the abused for more than 40 years. Those in need can use the shelter for services like counseling, court advocacy, personal protection orders, support groups, and assault-response.
DO UNTO OTHERS
In Michigan, students at the Lansing campus can volunteer to serve in St. Vincent’s Catholic Charities Immigration Law Clinic, serving immigrants from across the state since 1997. The clinic works with an immigration law attorney to provide a broad array of services from citizenship applications to representing unaccompanied minors to assisting in deportation/removal hearings. Services are provided regardless of immigration status on a sliding fee scale.
Another special area of practice is legal services for the elderly. The Sixty Plus, Inc., Elderlaw Clinic empowers law students to interview, counsel, represent and advocate for actual clients who may not be able to afford or care for themselves. Through Sixty Plus, legal interns (students who have met credit and GPA requirements) assist clients with counseling for legal problems, pensions, access to benefits and pooled trust accounts, as well as wills, consumer rights, grandparent visitation, landlord/tenant issues and more.
Our veterans deserve our utmost respect and thanks for their service. At the Oakland County Veteran’s Treatment Court, law students and faculty are able to help and assist service members who have come home either injured or in need of legal help. Sometimes veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, debilitating physical injuries, or suffer from emotional or legal troubles. It is our privilege to assist those service members with problems that impact them, their families and finances, to help veterans get on track and stay on track to a new, better life.
For those whose lives have been turned upside down by domestic violence and sexual assault, one place — Haven — in Oakland County has been creating a safe place for more than 40 years. Haven provides a shelter as well as counseling, court advocacy, personal protection orders, support groups, and an assault-response team, so volunteer spots are often available.
Also in Oakland County, the Family Law Assistance Project clinic is a joint effort between WMU-Cooley and Lakeshore Legal Aid. Students in the clinic work with FLAP’s staff attorneys to represent low-income people in “family law and domestic violence matters in Oakland County Circuit Court under Michigan Court rule 8.120.” The clinic provides a range of experiences, including “the chance to litigate and practice family law and represent low-income people in a ‘hands-on’ environment.”
On the west side of the state, students at WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus are active in many volunteer community service organizations, including legal assistance to those who must represent themselves due to lack of financial or other support. In Kent County, the Legal Assistance Center helps with a broad range of issues involving family situations, housing and finances.
Similarly, the Allegan County Legal Assistance Center also offers assistance with a variety of civil legal circumstances and can help to educate and support those known as “pro se individuals” or people representing themselves alone and without an attorney, about what they can do to support their case.
When considering where you want to attend law school, consider whether your legal education will included valuable, real-life legal experience through its clinical or pro bono offerings. If you want a practical legal education that teaches you the knowledge, skills and ethics needed to make a difference in the lives of others and in your legal career, WMU-Cooley is an excellent law school choice for you.