Clerkships-- Law school grads earn coveted jobs with federal court


By Paul Janczewski

Legal News

Cooley Law School continues to cement its reputation for sending capable graduates into the work force who are ready to step into important roles with law firms, businesses, and in public service.

Recently, three Cooley graduates have been added as clerks at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. In fact, according to Cooley's Associate Dean John Nussbaumer, Cooley had more graduates selected than any other law school in the state.

Each of the students - Jeffrey May, La Toya Palmer and Krystal Player - have taken different paths to law school, while all excelled once they were there. May is a law clerk for Magistrate Judge Mona Majzoub, while Palmer clerks for Judge Gershwin Drain and Player for Magistrate Judge Mark Randon.

For May, a career in law was not on his wish list growing up.

"I never wanted to be an attorney," he said. "I have several family members who are attorneys, and I just didn't have any interest in it."

He graduated from Western Michigan University in 2002 with a music degree and started a golf marketing business with several partners. For the next six years, May also owned and operated a few other small businesses "with varying degrees of success" and earned a master's degree in business information technology from Walsh College.

"I've always had a passion for technology, so I intended to go into the IT field at some point," he said.

But while running those businesses, and working with attorneys to handle contract negotiations, business acquisition, distribution agreements, trademark registrations and even a few lawsuits, May found himself "fascinated" by the work lawyers did, and started drafting some of the documents himself while asking the real attorneys to review his work.

May later decided to attend law school, and after looking at what a few had to offer, decided Cooley was "the right fit" for him because of its location, and night and weekend class schedule that allowed him to continue working. He planned on focusing on business law, but when the economy crashed, so did his businesses.

"After about two weeks of class, I was hooked," said May, whose wife was expecting their first child at the time. "I felt at home in law school."

May, who now has two children, also received many honors at Cooley, including editor-in-chief of the law review. He was a key member of the Mock Trials Board and placed high in several mock trial competitions. He is now close to receiving his master of law degree.

Unlike May, Player had a life-long goal to become a lawyer.

"As a young child, I enjoyed reading, writing and debating, so I aspired to become an attorney," she said. "I could not imagine being a part of any other profession."

When other children were outside playing, Player was writing short stories and devouring books. She had designs to become the first attorney from her family.

"I wanted to be a leader in my family," Player said, noting that her older brother also became an attorney.

"He followed in my footsteps," she said proudly.

After graduating with honors from Ohio State University, Player was accepted by Cooley and earned an honors scholarship. She served as an associate editor of Cooley's Law Review and as vice president of the Black Law Students Association. She won a handful of Certificates of Merit and received the school's Leadership Achievement Award and Alumni Distinguished Student Award, graduating in 2007 with honors.

Also, while at Cooley, Player volunteered for the school's Innocence Project, the Legal Aid and Defender Association of Detroit, and completed an externship at the Washtenaw County Public Defender Office. That led to an internship for U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen. Following that assignment, Player was hired by U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts as a law clerk. She worked there for three years before leaving to join her brother at a law firm, handling criminal and family law matters. Player stayed for one year before returning to the U.S. District Court for a clerkship with Randon.

Palmer also knew, since the second grade, that she wanted to be an attorney.

"In fact, I had dreams of becoming the first lady on the U.S. Supreme Court," she proclaimed.

But Sandra Day O'Connor beat her to it.

"I have always been fascinated with the intricacies of law and the written word, along with the notion that justice will always prevail."

But it took her a while to get there. She began her professional career as a human resources executive while raising a family.

"I didn't take a direct path to fulfill my goal," she said.

Like May, the collapse of the economy led her to law school. After being laid off, she decided to finally attend law school.

"It was the perfect opportunity," Palmer said, noting that she chose Cooley because of its flexible class schedule and scholarship assistance that it offered.

Palmer certainly made the best of her opportunities. She made the dean's list and was on the honor roll every term, received certificates of merit in research and writing, and served as the scholarly writing editor for the Cooley Law Review, earning one of the review's highest honors, the Eugene Krasicky Award.

Palmer also placed first in an intra-school mock trial competition, served as a student proctor, and was a teaching assistant for several classes. She also volunteered for pro bono work in several agencies. Palmer and a partner also advanced through multiple rounds of competition as members of Cooley's American Bar Association National Champion Client Counseling team, besting 95 teams from law schools across America to win the national championship. They placed fifth in the world in the international competition, held in the Netherlands.

"All of my experiences (at Cooley) have helped me tremendously in my current position as a judicial law clerk," Palmer said. "Being a law clerk is a great opportunity to better understand and view federal civil procedure in practice. Not only does one learn to handle multiple cases contemporaneously, but it gives you an opportunity to hone your writing skills under the tutelage of a federal judge."

Palmer said the position is a "great stepping stone into the legal community."

And all three credit Cooley, Nussbaumer, and the faculty and staff at the law school for encouraging them to succeed.

Player cites Nussbaumer's "hard work in getting people to understand that Cooley produces students who are competent in the law, and who will excel in their work."

"(Cooley's) reputation is building up, and people are realizing we can do the work as well as (Ivy League law school) graduates, and probably even better," Player said.

Palmer said Cooley's model of ensuring that graduates are "practice ready" when they leave is beneficial.

"When I graduated, I was definitely ready to hit the ground running," she said. "I had a practical understanding of federal civil procedure, as well as other practical and theoretical tools...that made my transition into my role as federal law clerk an easier one."

May credits Cooley's emphasis on "hard work, professionalism and ethics," which began on "day one" and carried through to his graduation. He also spoke of Cooley's "outstanding" writing curriculum and the "open-door" policy of professors as important factors in his success.

"It was the people at Cooley who were all happy to help their students succeed and achieve their goals that made it all possible," May said.

The fact that three Cooley graduates now have federal clerkships also has impressed Drain, who said that Palmer is "a very bright student" with excellent written and oral communication skills. He said the selection of all three Cooley students shows the school is "putting out some very good students" who are capable of making their mark in the law.

Nussbaumer, dean of Cooley's Auburn Hills Campus, is proud of what the three grads have accomplished.

"These three are proving that if given the opportunity, our grads can play in the big leagues," he said. "Old biases die hard, but once folks see what our grads can do, they become believers. All we ask is that people have an open mind."

Published: Mon, Feb 4, 2013