A competition to cherish

Cooley students return from international counseling contest

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Erin Moss was low-key and understated. LaToya Palmer was a bit more outspoken and aggressive.

Together the Cooley Law School students formed the winning team in the American Bar Association's Law Student Division Client Counseling Competition in March, besting 94 other law schools.

Now they're back from the Netherlands after tying for fifth place out of 20 teams in the International Client Counseling Competition.

Each say it's an experience she'll always cherish.

''The road from the intra-school competition to the international competition has been full of very exciting lessons along the way,'' said Moss. ''I've learned such a great deal about the law, counseling clients, and most importantly, myself. I've made great contacts and new friends from all around the world. All in all this has been a wonderful journey.''

Cooley Law School students are trained to be ''practice-ready,'' which both Palmer and Moss say helped them excel in the competition.

Simulating a law office consultation, the competition put law students, acting as attorneys, together with a ''client'' seeking legal expertise. With little information about the consultation before the client's arrival, the students were asked to conduct a 45-minute interview with the client, exploring possible legal options.

Judges evaluated the students' ability to establish a working atmosphere, listen, understand the client's perspective, analyze the problem, and present various courses of action consistent with the client's goals and objectives.

Palmer said that while her team didn't place first in the Netherlands, the experience itself and the friends she made ''sure feels like a win to me.''

''We learned that some countries believe that a consultation between an attorney and a client should be very formal,'' said Palmer, who now feels she has co -counsel in 20 other countries. ''As Americans, we believe that client counseling is an interactive process. Our goal is to ensure that we make our clients comfortable so that they are willing to share with us all of the information regarding their issues.''

Moss attributes their success to the fact that both she and Palmer had professional careers -- she in sales, and Palmer in human resources -- prior to deciding to attend law school.

''The experience we gained as professionals helped us to frame our consultations in a way that made the client feel willing to share pertinent information,'' she said.

She said she and Palmer also learned a lot about interviewing skills from their Cooley coaches, Dean Christine Church and Professor Patricia Mock. According to Palmer, Church and Mock taught them that a lawyer's success is determined by how best he or she uses knowledge of the law to meet clients' expectations, which requires careful listening in order to address both legal and non-legal concerns surrounding their issues.

''With the topic of the competition being professional responsibility, Erin and I were well prepared in dealing with the different scenarios,'' Palmer said. ''Cooley's focus on 'Knowledge, skills and ethics' goes far beyond the words on the letterhead.''

Palmer and Moss were the ''sleeper'' team at nationals, said Mock.

''We had two young students not expected to win who just wowed the judges,'' she said. ''They just kept getting better.''

Mock said the students showed empathy to the client as well as active listening skills and the ability to analyze the law and a apply it.

''It's not an easy competition,'' said Mock.

Next year, the goal is to take home an international championship, said Mock. That's not much of a stretch considering that the school placed sixth at nationals in 2009; third in 2010; and first in 2011. In fact, this year, two Cooley teams advanced to the finals for the first time ever.

Neither Palmer nor Moss had been to Europe prior to their flight to Amsterdam, and both say they are eager to return for a longer visit. They used the flight time to study for the finals that awaited them in Auburn Hills.

Moss and Palmer each won $500 along with a plaque, trophy, and -- most likely -- their images on a bulletin board promoting Cooley.

''And it'll look very good on their resume one day,'' said Mock.

Published: Mon, May 9, 2011