Moving up Cooley team advances to national competition

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The cosmopolitan city of Ottawa, Canada will forever be a source of good memories for Cooley–Auburn Hills students Amanda Demitrish and Shannon DeWall, but not for its famous cathedral, art museum, or fine dining. 

It was there that Demitrish and DeWall earned Cooley a second place ranking in the Region 6 ABA Negotiation Competition held November 12 and 13.  The pair solidified their standing, with a total score only slightly lower than the first place team from Ohio State University, by winning the final—and most difficult—round of negotiation. Under the leadership of Professors Nancy Wonch and Dustin Foster, Demitrish and DeWall have earned the right to advance to the ABA National Negotiation Competition to be held in New Orleans February 3-4.

“Professor Wonch set the agenda for our training, went to Ottawa with us, and coached us through the final problem,” says Demitrish.  “To prepare for the Region 6 competition, we met every Saturday from the start of the term until the competition and worked with Professor Foster and twice went to Lansing to work with the Cooley – Lansing team and Professor Wonch.”

The ABA Law Student Division Negotiation Competition provides a forum for law students to practice their negotiation skills. Through a series of simulations, the students act as lawyers and negotiate a number of legal problems. The simulations mimic actual negotiations in that a common set of facts is known by all parties, but each side is privy to separate details pertinent only to its own participants.

“This year’s topic is real property,” says DeWall, “and in the final round Amanda and I represented a homeowner whose son had hosted a party and someone had been injured on the property during the party. The opposing team represented the injured woman and her parents.”

All of the simulations in a given competition deal with a single topic, but each round challenges the students with a new situation and an increasing level of difficulty.

“In the first round, we represented the buyer of a $2.5 million home,” explains Demitrish. In the second round we represented the same client in discussions with the neighborhood association regarding problems with his son, for whom he had bought the house.”

Both DeWall and Demitrish are students in Cooley’s part-time, five-year program and expect to graduate in May 2015. Prior to partnering in the competition, they had met in the Torts class and the Research and Writing class.   While they are at the same level at Cooley, it is their diverse backgrounds and work experiences prior to starting law school that give this team the talents they bring to the table.

DeWall graduated from the University of Michigan in 1998 with an M.S. in human genetics.  Since that time she has worked as a genetic counselor specializing in prenatal and infertility problems. 

“I help couples understand their reproductive risks with regard to inherited diseases,” says DeWall. “One of the reasons I decided to attend law school is that I can see the fields of human genetics and law intersecting. In the future, I think we will need experts in these areas to help patients, laboratories, and health care providers understand what is and is not appropriate use of DNA samples, embryos, and other biological samples.”

In addition to working her full time job and staying active in her church, DeWall is a wife and mother of two young sons. A masterful “juggler,” she makes spending time with her family a priority.

“My husband Allen is a stay-at-home dad to Noah, who is 2 1/2, and Elijah, who is 14 months old. Allen and I had long discussions about whether or not I should go to law school, and we made a family decision that we would all go to law school together,” says DeWall. “So this is a family adventure. Noah even helps carry my book bag and makes sure I have coffee when I am off to study or attend class.”

DeWall credits Cooley’s flexible schedule for making it possible for students with busy lives to pursue a law degree.

“I work a lot of hours during the week, so some terms it’s best for me to take weekend classes, and some terms it works better to take night classes.  Cooley allows me to do that. If it weren’t for Cooley offering this kind of schedule, there is no way I could go to law school.”

DeWall explains that she had just made the commitment to start law school when she found out she was pregnant with her second baby (with a then 10-month-old child at home).

“Everyone thought I was crazy, so I made an appointment with my adviser, Professor Karen Chadwick to ask her if she thought I should quit or at least take a semester off.  She said, ‘absolutely not’ and thought I could manage it, so I took her advice. 

Professor Chadwick was right:  two weeks into my second term at law school I had my baby, and I only missed two classes. I’m so glad she was so positive and encouraging; otherwise, I might not have kept at it.”

Demitrish brings her own unique set of skills to the team. She has worked for General Motors in the area of government contracts, first as a contract worker then as a regular employee since 1993. Prior to that she owned a small catering company, taught cooking in community education programs, and worked in a variety of restaurants as a baker, bartender, waitress, and manager. With a B.B.A. from Wayne State University and an M.S. in corporate finance from Walsh College, she intends to practice business transactions law.

“I chose this area because I have worked in the corporate world for many years, even before my experience in government contracting. If I add a legal degree to this, I will be of more value in the corporate setting.”
Demitrish says her many years of schooling taught her to be disciplined and to make time for study, but she says attending law school has added a new dimension.

“My business training was like a puzzle that always fit together with no pieces left over. In other words, 2 plus 2 always equals 4.   However, in law there are variations—shades of gray—and this means I have to stretch my thinking and my beliefs to properly analyze a fact problem. At 53, I am an older student, and going through this process has been an extremely rewarding experience.” 

Demitrish has fond memories of watching the popular television series of the 1950s and 1960s, “Perry Mason,” with her father when she was growing up.

“My dad always figured out who the real bad guy was before it was revealed,” remembers Demitrish. “I always thought it would be interesting to be a lawyer, and I thought I would even make a good judge because I am good at seeing various sides of an issue.”

Sadly, Demitrish’s father passed away just a few weeks before she participated in the competition in Ottawa.

“He would have been thrilled to hear of my success. After all, when I told people I had decided to go to law school, most thought I was a little crazy, but my dad said, ‘It’s  about time!’”

The other man cheering on Demitrish’s return to school is her husband Daniel. Before her law school commitment, Demitrish used to take major responsibility for the inside household duties, and Daniel would care for the outside duties on their home and five acres.

“Daniel has been extremely supportive—picking up the slack in the household responsibilities and offering encouragement. This past year was particularly challenging when my father was ill and required round-the-clock care for several months. My three sisters and I assisted my stepmother as much as we could with his care. My elderly mother also needs some of my time, so it is Daniel who now takes primary care of our dog and cat as well.

Demitrish also cites Cooley’s flexible program as a good fit for the rest of her busy life.

“When I attended the fall 2009 open house, I was very unsure if I could handle the demands of law school while working full time in a challenging job.  I was on my way out of the building having just convinced myself that I couldn’t do it when I met Professor Chadwick.  Her encouragement and enthusiasm made me think again.  So I headed downstairs where Dean Zelenski and Dean Nussbaumer were giving their presentation.  As soon as I walked into the classroom and saw the curving tiered rows of desks, I knew I wanted to be there. After the presentation both deans took the time to talk with me and address my questions and concerns.  Now that I am in the program, I have compared notes with a colleague at work who attended another law school, and she said it seems as if Cooley does more practical instruction in the law than the theoretical teaching she experienced.”

After competing in Ottawa, both Demitrish and DeWall say they enjoyed the collegial atmosphere of their experience and call the feedback from the judges “invaluable.” While their schedule allowed for only brief escapes to tour the University of Ottawa campus, they did experience one “Lucy and Ethel” moment when their elevator became stuck between floors .

“I use a wheelchair, and the university had an elevator at the side of the stairs to accommodate wheelchair users,” says DeWall.  On the way to one of our rounds, the elevator stopped working about half way down.  Amanda and I joked that the round would just have to be held there at the elevator and that I would do my negotiating from there.  The elevator was stuck for only a few minutes, but we did have a good laugh.”

DeWall and Demitrish will now prepare for the national competition in New Orleans.  They will receive the problem for the final level of competition in mid-January then begin weekly meetings with their coaches, Professor Foster and Professor Wonch, to brainstorm ideas.

“Professor Wonch and Professor Foster have been incredibly helpful and generous with their time,” says Demitrish. Each offers us a unique insight to the problem and to the way Shannon and I interact with each other and the competition.  Shannon and I have decided to drive together to New Orleans so that during the trip we can continue to hash out the problem, solidify our roles in the negotiation, and integrate the facts so that they become ingrained in our heads.  We will continue to hone our teammate skills as this is one of the most important skills to successful negotiation.”