Ottawa Friend of Court job helped prepare WMU-Cooley graduate for a law career

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by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Her job at the Ottawa County Friend of the Court may have increased the difficulty of obtaining her J.D. from Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School, but Amanda Heys-Westendorp thinks the work experience will be invaluable to her future career.

“For my job, I’m in the courtroom a lot interacting with different people. I feel like it’s trained me a lot in how the law works. A lot of people coming out of law school don’t have that perspective,” she says.

Working full-time while attending law school almost full-time presents enough of a challenge for any person, but Heys-Westendorp is also the mother of four children, one of whom was born in May. (“My fourth and final!” comments Heys-Westendorp.)

Though she therefore found it challenging to participate in too much other than academics, she was  active in WMU-Cooley’s Access to Justice Clinic, something she says was very rewarding.

“They were able to accommodate my schedule so I could do it. I did expungements – meeting with clients, filling out the expungement paperwork, doing outreach events to tell people about the clinic. A lot of these people have just one charge or two minor charges but it’s holding them back. So helping them was a really great experience,” she says.

The ATJ Clinic, which is still under the direction of Grand Rapids Campus Associate Dean Tracey Brame, also helps with license restorations, gun rights restorations, and other similar legal tasks, but Heys-Westendorp concentrated solely on expungements.

She says the main reason she decided on law school was that she wanted to move ahead in her job, and she saw that many of her superiors had law degrees. A Grand Rapids native who graduated from Grand Rapids Christian High School, Heys-Westendorp attended Northern Michigan University for her degree in sociology with a minor in international studies.

Right after that, having met her husband and resettled in Holland, she obtained a job in the probation department there, followed by transition to another job in the Holland district court and then a child support position in the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office.

That led to her current work with the Friend of the Court. There she enforces the court’s orders regulating child support, custody, parenting time, and the like. “I’ll field complaints from clients, whether it’s violation of a particular provision of an order or trying to secure child support. We do a lot of mediation trying to get the parties to come to their own agreements versus having the courts impose something. There is a possibility of jail time if they’re found in contempt, but that doesn’t happen commonly.

“I act as a neutral party in the process,” she adds.

Now, having graduated from WMU-Cooley at the end of September (and still looking forward to taking the bar exam), Heys-Westendorp is open to a future career in criminal defense, family law or estate planning, depending on what opportunities arise.

Heys-Westendorp says, “I’m interested in staying in government, but I definitely don’t want to limit myself.”

She traveled to the Lansing Campus on Saturdays for an estate planning course. “I found it really interesting,” she observes. “So many of these things are connected.”

Heys-Westendorp says that such things would not have been possible without the help of her husband. “Our son was diagnosed with autism,” she says, “so my husband decided to stay at home about a year ago in order to facilitate him doing as well as he can. That has just helped me tremendously.”

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