Profile in Brief: Helen Marie Berg


By Jordan Poll

A former Fulbright English teaching assistant, programmatic clerk for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and litigation paralegal at Seward & Kissel LLP in New York, Helen Marie Berg came to Michigan Law with interests in politics, community organization, and government service.

“I thought of a law degree as a way to gain skills so that I could make a difference in those fields,” said Berg, whose future plans include clerking for The Hon. Rebecca G. Ebinger on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa for two years before transitioning to an associate position with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington, D.C. “Michigan Law gave me a clearer view of all the different ways I can use my degree. I learned skills that can be applied in a lot of different situations and when people really need it.”
Growing up in Detroit, Michigan Law was the gold standard of legal education for Berg, who spent her 1L summer interning with the Mayor’s Office in Detroit.

“It was the natural choice,” she said. “Michigan is not just the best in the state, but one of the top law schools in the country. There is a reason why.” For Berg, that reason was mentorship. She lived in Phid House for all three years of law school, which was like “being in a community of mentors” whose investment in her as a 1L inspired her to become a mentor to her younger housemates.

“I saw it then, and I continue to see the same community now among alumni,” said Berg, referring to her experience as a summer associate at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. “The other Michigan alumni welcomed me into the club. They really looked out for each other. That’s something I noticed right away, and I already plan to carry it forward as an alumna.”

Her advice for 1Ls and incoming students? Seek a leadership role in something you care about. Berg took this to heart by joining the International Refugee Assistance Project and the Michigan Law Review as executive production editor, a position for which she received the Howard B. Coblentz Prize at Senior Day last May. The annual award—established in memory of Howard Coblentz, 1918, who enlisted while a student and lost his life during World War I—is presented to a member of the editorial staff for outstanding contributions to the Law Review.

“It was a privilege being a part of an organization that chooses what scholarship should be published and read by such a wide and prestigious audience,” said Berg. “Because of that honor, I wanted everyone involved to feel like they were a part of it, and to make sure that they—to the extent that they wanted and were able to—could contribute. That’s why I spent a lot of energy on making changes to the production process.”

As an internal manager in charge of the Law Review’s staff of 2L and 3L students, Berg was responsible for making improvements to large-scale production processes that had remained unchanged for at least 15 years. “There was still paper involved, and this archaic process reflected how much people felt invested,” said Berg, who learned as a leader that giving people the tools to work hard and reach their own potential has a great impact on the team’s success and the quality of the publication. “Because the Law Review hadn’t yet made the transition into the digital era, I spent a lot of time thinking of ways to improve the system so that everyone could contribute to their potential. There were a lot of mechanical changes that needed to happen, specifically transitioning from writing edits by hand to making edits in PDF format, which contributed overall to a greater sense of community and comradery.”

While her long-term goals range from opening her own practice to working as counsel to a local governmental official, the Law School has poised Berg for success in whichever path she chooses. “I learned true skills at Michigan. It taught me how to be part of this profession,” she said. “It gave me confidence and courage to not be afraid to make big changes. I’ll look back on the experience and not be afraid to take some leaps and work hard to make things better.”