WMU-Cooley student driven by deportation of father to pursue a career in the law

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

A tragic life event resulted in the decision of Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School recent graduate Richard Perez to pursue a career in the law, but in a way that is perhaps counterintuitive.

The deportation of Perez’s father, who though he was actually a stepfather was “the only father I’ve ever known” according to Perez, represented the final reason causing him to move from his undergraduate concentration in criminal justice at Grand Valley State University and a career in law enforcement to attending law school. He did so not primarily because he wanted to prevent all such deportations, though that was part of it, but to contribute to ensuring that immigration legal advice is realistic and as accurate as possible.

His father came to the United States and married a woman in California, then got divorced before coming to Grand Rapids and marrying Perez’s mother. The courts later found the father guilty of committing fraud with his first marriage in order to remain in the country, and sentenced him to deportation.

“My basic gripe with my dad’s situation was that we kept hearing, ‘Don’t worry, this won’t happen,’ and then all those things happened,” Perez says. “He was told that if he agreed to voluntarily deport, he would have time to go home and get his things together. They told me don’t worry, don’t take a day off of school to come to the trial. The judge didn’t allow him that so I never got to say goodbye. And after that I said, you know what, I think I am going to law school.”

It is the legal profession’s gain that he did so, and more particularly the law firm of Miller Johnson, which has offered him a position, pending bar exam passage, after hiring him as a summer associate the past two years through the Floyd Skinner Bar minority clerkship program.

During those summers, Perez worked on the business end of immigration law, assisting with H-1-B and other visa matters, but he says going forward he will practice in civil litigation. “Through the years I started to love litigation more and more. I think that’s what I truly want to do. Immigration law is very personal to me, and it’s hard for me to see it with an open lens, but the opportunity to work in litigation at Miller Johnson is too good to pass up.” He adds that he hopes to do pro bono work in immigration, in conjunction with the firm’s attorneys in the Kalamazoo office.

In addition, Perez comments, “When you come in as a first year law student, it’s not what you expect. I expected it to be very serious and cutthroat. But it’s nothing like that at Miller Johnson. I couldn’t be happier.”

He adds that the firm is allowing him to start in March so he can concentrate on studying for the February bar examination.

Perez was one of the winners of the WMU-Cooley Law School Leadership Achievement Award at the graduation convocation Nov. 15, reflecting his wide involvement at the school.

Perez served as the West Michigan Student Bar Association vice-president, and, in addition to being a mentor and mentor advisor, co-organized a workshop series focused on helping students obtain strong skills.

“We take things that aren’t reinforced in class ­– or even taught, some of them – and go in-depth. Cross-examination, jury voir dire, and even interview skills are some of the subjects. Hillman Advocacy is what inspired me.

“We asked people, like Ryan Duffy from Miller Johnson and Blair Lachman from the prosecutor’s office, ‘Hey, can you you give me an hour if we give you lunch?’ They’ve been willing,” Perez says, “and we’ve had good turnouts.”

In addition to being a teaching assistant, Perez also volunteered with Mock Trial. “I’ve judged mock trial and moot court competitions, and absolutely loved doing that,” he says.

Perez’s first appearance in the Grand Rapids Legal News was Sept. 26, 2018, when he volunteered to tell his father’s deportation story for a Constitution Day presentation at WMU-Cooley.

His opinion of the WMU-Cooley Law School Grand Rapids campus could not be higher. “One of the best things is that professors at Cooley are very accessible. They’re always willing to give you the time of day.”

He says his favorite class was civil procedure – something he will now put into practice often – and he very much liked both Professor Chris Hastings’ teaching style and his extra-classroom opportunities. “I?was able to watch Judge Maloney hear motions, and afterwards we got to meet with him. That was a great experience and it was all thanks to Professor Hastings. That’s one of the greatest things here; the professors all have a lot of connections with the community,” he says.

He also loved Negotiations, saying about Professor Paul Sorensen, “His real world practice was really helpful, and I loved the negotiation role play,” and Constitutional Law classes with Professor Devin Schindler, whom he calls “top-notch.”

His terms straddled the campus deanships of Nelson Miller and Tracey Brame, and his praise for them is unstinting. “I have nothing but good things to say about both Dean Miller and Dean Brame.
Dean Miller is such a kind-hearted person; he’s a walking encyclopedia on legal subjects.” Perez says. “And I took a class, Race and the Supreme Court, that Dean Brame taught. That was a perfect class. And as a student, I appreciate that you can go to her for anything.”



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