Life-changing month comes to a close Archer gives keynote at conclusion of Sophomore Summer Institute


By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

Dennis Archer may have come from humble beginnings, caddying, washing dishes and doing anything and everything to attain his education. And look where that got him. The Detroit native graduated from law school, was on the Michigan Supreme Court, led the state and national Bar associations, excelled in private practice, and as Detroit Mayor, bridged the gap between the city and suburbs.

So it was fitting that this giant in the legal profession gave a keynote speech to 20 students who had just completed a month-long, first-ever American Bar Association's Sophomore Summer Institute at the Thomas M. Cooley Law School's Auburn campus last week. The program was presented by ABA's Council of Legal Education Opportunity (CLEO), Oakland University and Cooley for students of color, low income or otherwise disadvantaged to help diversify the next generation of lawyers.

And Archer's wide-ranging speech didn't disappoint in firing up the students to continue pursuing excellence and take advantage of the opportunity they've been given.

Archer told the CLEO students the program they had just completed was a "unique opportunity" because it puts them "ahead of the game" should they decide to pursue a law degree.

But no matter what profession they should chose, Archer told the CLEO graduates this was just the beginning of a long tough road that is filled with riches, if they want it bad enough. "You get what you work for," Archer said. "It's on you."

Speaking without notes, and walking at the front of the room, Archer used stories, voice inflections and humor to set the tone for his inspirational speech. He called it a privilege to practice law, but said there are not enough attorneys to meet the legal needs of all citizens.

"There are so many people who need you," Archer told the students. He spoke of the plights of minorities, the lack of enough diversity in the field of law and the need to push for education in a nation that within decades will predominately feature the face of color.

"We have a reach out in our neighborhoods and encourage young people" to continue with education, Archer said. "It makes a difference."

Archer alternately inspired, and pushed, during his talk, and told the CLEO students to "Be great at whatever you do." But even though they've been given a rare opportunity, nothing will be given to them, and it will take very hard work not only to attain success, but to keep it. "What you do with it is up to you," he said. "You have no excuse."

Cooley's Associate Dean John Nussbaumer said Archer was the right choice as keynote speaker to wrap up the CLEO program, calling him a leader for many years in his efforts to diversify the legal profession, and as a past ABA President who is a huge supporter of the CLEO program.

"He was the perfect person to inspire the students to continue their efforts to march toward law school," Nussbaumer said.

Of the first-ever SSI program in Michigan, Nussbaumer said "it's been terrific." He said the program began with 20 students, and ended without any dropouts. "It's been a lot of work and effort on the part of a lot of people."

The 20 undergraduate college students in CLEO consisted of 13 women and seven men, from Adrian College, Alabama A&M, Bowling Green, Delta, Eastern Michigan, Michigan, Michigan State, North Carolina A&T, Oakland University, Purdue, Saginaw Valley, Wayne State and Yale.

The students took a variety of courses during the program, and attended 10 luncheons throughout the month sponsored by bar associations from Oakland, Macomb counties and Detroit Metropolitan, ethnic groups including Hispanic and Arab American bar associations, the Federal and Women Lawyers associations, and bar groups comprised of Black Judges, Straker and Wolverine bar associations.

Nussbaumer said those judges and lawyers in the meetings gave the students a broad perspective of the legal profession, "and we think it really opened their eyes to the possibilities that are out there in terms of what you can do with a law degree."

The total program budget was more than $83,000, and major funding came from Cooley, CLEO and Oakland University, and the 10 associations also contributed $2,500, Nussbaumer said. In addition, the students received a $750 stipend each for successfully completing the program.

"But these students were pioneers, and our relationship with them does not end today," Nussbaumer said.

The students received 120 hours of academic and legal instruction in classes such as critical reasoning, legal writing, contracts, professional responsibility, civil procedure and appellate advocacy. They took the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) at the beginning of the program, and again at the end. Nussbaumer said their scores increased by an average of 6.12 points per student. Scores also increased on other tests taken at the start and finish.

In addition, the centerpiece of their legal writing consisted of a real case from the Michigan Court of Appeals, The People v Emran Chowdhury, a city ordinance case from Troy, and centers on whether police could stop anyone under age 21 and administer a breathalyzer test. Nussbaumer said the question was whether the ordinance violated fourth amendment search and seizure provisions.

He said CLEO students showed great interest in the case, and they wrote opinions and bench memorandums, and orally argued it before a panel of student judges at Cooley. The case was selected by Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Cynthia D. Stephens, and she heard oral arguments for the students after their graduation as part of the CLEO program.

Cassandra Ogden, who heads the national CLEO program for the ABA, said she expects the format to continue in the future here and called it "a wonderful opportunity for students that worked very well."

She said it is beneficial no matter what profession the CLEO grads enter because it gives them a chance to develop skills in reading and analytical thinking that are essential in most professional fields.

The CLEO students found the program to be extremely worthwhile.

"It's been an excellent opportunity," said Donald Stuckey II of Detroit, a senior at Eastern Michigan, who plans to become an attorney. "It's given me a lot of help for LSAT, and just being prepared for law school," he said.

Stuckey said he wants to be an attorney because there are people who have their legal issues exploited, and need good professionals in place to do things the right way. "As an attorney, you are equipped with the tools and knowledge on how to push for change," he said.

Sharron Seaton, 19, of Detroit and a junior at the University of Michigan, was unsure coming into the program whether she wanted to become an attorney. But after completing the CLEO program, "I know for sure I want to go to law school," she said.

"The program has opened my eyes to what the profession of law is all about, and shown me what law school will be like," she added. Seaton said she is still unsure if she wants to practice law, but the program has exposed her to the possibilities it presents.

Seaton said the appellate advocacy class was one that encouraged her in public speaking, so much so that she was selected as CLEO class spokesperson at the completion. And she also said no matter what profession she and others engage in, the most important thing she learned was professional responsibility and making ethical decisions.

Martha Moore, an assistant dean and professor at Cooley, was heavily involved in the program as well, and congratulated the CLEO grads. "This is our future, and we're in good hands,' she said.

E. Christopher Johnson, a visiting professor and director of the graduate program in corporate law and finance at Cooley, was instrumental in getting the CLEO program to Cooley. Besides learning what law school is like, and the feel of LSAT, he told them at the beginning that it would be a month that would change their lives.

"And a lot of them agreed," he said. Ethics, camaraderie, critical thinking and logic picked up during the SSI will help in any field, he said. "I know that we have enriched their lives in ways that wouldn't have happened but for the fact that they were here," Johnson said. "Hopefully that will make them better engineers, teachers, whatever they decide to be, and better citizens for having had this experience... even to be a responsible person in society."

Published: Wed, Jul 7, 2010