Professor shows a passion for plain language in law

by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

When Julie Clement set her sights on a legal career, the Cadillac native opted for Cooley Law School.

“I wanted to be as close to home as possible – mainly because I was sure I’d fail and didn’t want to crawl back very far,” she says. “From the first day, I was hooked, although I still knew I would fail. But my first-term grades were great, so I never looked back.

“Cooley has a lot of non-traditional students, so it was nice to fit in, even though I felt like an old housewife when I started. Cooley helped me get past those insecurities very quickly.”
And so Clement, an assistant professor at Cooley teaching Legal Research and Writing, can empathize with her students, who typically take her class at the end of their first year.
“Most of them are still a little insecure – and terrified because of what they’ve heard about this class – but they’re starting to make the shift from student to future lawyer. They’re starting to think like lawyers.”

The “light bulb” usually goes on in Research and Writing, when struggles in earlier classes start to make sense, she says.

“Often, students don’t feel like they’re getting anywhere – they put an incredible amount of work into Research and Writing, yet they feel they’re just spinning their wheels. But when they compare their first memo to their final memo, they can see for themselves how far they’ve come in just 14 short weeks. It’s rewarding to see that transformation for myself, and it’s even more rewarding to watch them suddenly realize how far they’ve come.”

Clement joined the Cooley faculty from the Michigan Court of Appeals, where she was a research attorney, and later a supervising attorney in the Lansing research office.

“In both positions, I enjoyed the ability to work with the law in a non-adversarial way,” she says. “The attorneys and litigants were clearly part of the adversarial system but in the Research Division, our job was to step outside the advocacy and simply find the law – the pure law.”

As a research attorney, Clement liked being able to fully explore – and then write about – both sides of each issue.

“I liked the objectivity of the writing, even though it was a challenge to learn to take the ‘spin’ out of the parties’ legal arguments. Every time I wrote a research report, I knew I had an important role – to help the judges get to the heart of the matter.”

As a supervising attorney, she enjoyed reading staff attorneys’ reports and also liked helping new research attorneys find their voice and hone the skills they brought to the Court.
“The reason I left to go to Cooley was because I enjoyed the teaching so much and wanted to do more of it,” she says.

Clement has come full circle to her first goal of being a teacher – a career plan kiboshed by her academic adviser at Central Michigan University who felt the profession was too crowded.

The second person in her family to attend college, Clement spent 15 years in other fields – but one experience after another pointed her in the direction of law school. Her job as office manager in a medical practice brought her into regular contact with attorneys.

“I watched what our attorneys did and started to think, ‘I could do that,’” she says.

Then her third-grader daughter started talking about becoming a lawyer when she grew up.

“Again, I thought, ‘I could do that – what a great example that would be for her.’”

A rocky patch at the medical office prompted Clement to consider a different direction. After breezing through practice LSATs then the real thing, she was on her way.

Passionate about plain language, Clement is editor-in-chief of the Clarity journal, for the international organization promoting plain legal language. She serves on the board of directors for PLAIN – the Plain Language Association InterNational, which advocates plain language in all writing, not just legal writing. And finally, she serves as treasurer for the Center for Plain Language, a Washington, D.C. based organization that works primarily toward plain language in the U.S. – especially the federal government.

The Center holds the ClearMark Awards each year to recognize organizations, businesses, and government entities that are working toward clearer communication.

“We also give the WonderMark award for poor writing – because it makes you wonder what they meant,” she says

Clarity will hold its biennial international conference in May, in conjunction with the ClearMark Awards in D.C. Clement is doing volunteer work with that effort.

Other volunteer activities include serving on the Portland Planning Commission, Economic Development Association, and Main Street board, among others, and helping to start the local arts council, serving as its president. She also served as president of Cooley’s Alumni Association, and is on the Thomas Cooley Inns of Court board.

“I’m an avid volunteer and I’m waiting for someone to come up with a 12-step program to help me learn to say, ‘No,’” she says. “I served on the Portland City Council for 4-1/2 years – two years as mayor pro tem – but I didn’t run in the last election – a step toward recovery?”

Clement and her husband of 20 years, portrait artist and musician Rush Clement, met when she sang with a country band. The couple, who have a 27-year-old daughter and an infant grandchild, owns a small art studio and retail store in downtown Portland that Rush runs. He is working on a series of oil portraits of retired Michigan Court of Appeals judges.

In her spare time, Clement enjoys reading, quilting, and arts and crafts. She and her husband also enjoy traveling, including road trips to national parks, cruises, and two trips to Europe.
A book co-written with her sister is also in the cards – “but we haven’t even been able to narrow down the topic yet, so it’s off to a slow start.”