Leadership changes at WMU-Cooley Law School draw on people with key experience

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Though new Associate Dean Tracey Brame of Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School  had served as the Grand Rapids campus assistant dean under Nelson P. Miller,  she says it has been amazing to her just how broad the job is.

“Nelson and I worked for ten years together; we were sort of yin and yang. I would go to places he couldn’t be, that kind of thing. But even having helped him in many ways, there was a whole lot that he did I wasn’t familiar with. So it’s been a real learning curve,” says Dean Brame, who transitioned into her new position January 1.

Dean Miller has not retired, but returned to focusing on teaching. He based his decision on a conviction that he had achieved the vast majority of his goals for the school, accomplishing a lot. within the administrative framework.

“I was the campus dean for ten years, and there really wasn’t anything more to do. Since I still want to do more personally, I needed to make a change,”?Miller says. “For example, the Grand Rapids campus has maintained a 75% Michigan bar pass rate. I want to do something where I can meet new challenges.”

A practicing litigator for 16 years before joining WMU-Cooley, having argued cases before such august bodies as the Michigan Supreme Court, Michigan Court of Appeals, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, as well as filing amicus and party briefs for the U.S. Supreme Court, one of the many things he wanted to be able to do is  expand his pro bono work. Dean Miller has won the State Bar’s John W. Cummiskey Award for pro bono work in the past, among many other accolades.

He received his B.A. from Indiana University and his J.D., cum laude, from the University of Michigan Law School. Then, some 30 years ago, he settled in Grand Haven.

There, he serves as operations manager for his church, Covenant Life, an organization with over 1000 members which renovated and moved into an abandoned piano factory. “I’m actually managing a larger staff and building than  at Cooley,” Miller says.

Another project he is taking on is as co-editor of the Institute for Continuing Legal Education’s Causes of Action form book. “ICLE needed a couple of coeditors and I needed a new challenge,” he says with a brief laugh.

Dean Miller will always be Dean Miller, however, because he was given the title of Associate Dean Emeritus at the January convocation of WMU-Cooley. The award was a total surprise to him, and was accompanied by widespread delight and congratulations on the part of his colleagues and the students.

“It was much, much appreciated after all these years of service,” he says.

His skill at teaching – he is continuing to teach Torts I and II – should also not be underestimated. One of Dean Brame’s new responsibilities is to review teacher evaluations, and she says that Miller’s are extraordinarily good.

Dean Brame herself is now the chief academic officer, but, she explains, “I’ve been in the clinical program, so I may not be as fluent in faculty issues. I’ve had to get up to speed.” She notes that one of the high points of her first two months has been the “tremendous” amount of faculty support she’s received.

Dean Brame brings a wealth of experience to WMU-Cooley; prior to starting there in 2006, she was a staff attorney for Legal Aid of West Michigan, an attorney for the District of Columbia Public Defender Services, a researcher/writer for the Federal Defender’s office, and an assistant defender with Michigan’s State Appellate Defender Office. Both her undergraduate and her J.D. degrees are from University of Michigan.

In addition to overseeing the Grand Rapids campus, Brame, who founded WMU-Cooley’s Access to Justice Clinic,   is the Associate Dean for the Kalamazoo “location” – as they term it – housed on the Western Michigan University campus. That location is now accredited so the school can offer up to 60 credit hours there.

In Brame’s previous position as assistant dean, she focused primarily on student liaison, in terms of both discipline and support.  (She was the investigating dean for disciplinary matters and, on the flip side, campus dean of students.) At the same time as WMU-Cooley Interim President Jeffrey Martlew announced Brame’s appointment at the beginning of the year, he appointed Victoria Vuletich as assistant dean.

Well-known for her dedication to, and expertise in, ethics and professionalism, Vuletich too brings a deep background outside of academia to her new position. After getting her B.A. from Fort Lewis College and her J.D. from University of Denver School of Law, she practiced in personal injury, family law and other areas at a law firm in Owosso. Immediately before joining WMU-Cooley in 2008, Vuletich worked for the State Bar of Michigan as deputy division director of professional standards, and she is the former chairperson of the American Bar Association Center for Professional Responsibility Continuing Legal Education Committee.

She presents and writes widely on professional responsibility and ethics, and a few years ago was a guest lecturer at Hertford College, Oxford University, in Great Britain.

“Victoria will continue her support of professionalism here,”  Brame says, “but in addition to some of her assigned duties with the students, we’ll be looking at where her skills lie as our roles develop. She’ll definitely play a mentorship role.”

Though Dean Brame’s own role is evolving, and there will be some uncertainty until a permanent president is hired, one of her primary responsibilities will be to serve as the voice of the Grand Rapids campus within WMU-Cooley. “Of course, one of my roles is to implement policy that comes from central administration, but I’m also called on to give input on our Grand Rapids perspective, to make sure that our voices are heard.”

At the same time, she emphasizes that it is important to view WMU-Cooley as one school, not a campus-versus-campus scenario.

“I’ll also continue representing WMU-Cooley externally, which is a big job, but then there’s this huge breadth of other issues I need to deal with: spoiled chocolate milk due to mechanical problems, personnel issues, becoming an amateur meteorologist to determine whether to cancel class. And lots and lots of signatures,” she says.

“But, you know what, I’m really enjoying it. WMU-Cooley has been so good to me, and I view it as service to the school,” she adds.