Torticulture - Professor guides students through the maze of torts

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Oh, those tricky Torts. Students learn the rules are not concrete, it's what you argue them to be, says Linda Kisabeth, an associate professor on the Cooley Law School faculty.

Students also may have a hard time separating tort concepts from other legal matters, such as criminal law, constitutional law, contracts, and property, she says.

"They have to learn that many areas of law overlap one another and sometimes certain areas of law override other areas," Kisabeth says. "This concept isn't unique to torts, it's true of many law school courses. Both challenges are present as students progress throughout their entire law school career."

Kisabeth can empathize with the long haul her students have chosen to climb. After high school, where a seventh grade government class piqued her interest in a law career, she spent a decade as an office manager/ paralegal in a two-attorney firm, while studying part-time for an associate's degree in business administration from Cleary College in Ann Arbor, and a bachelor's degree in communications with a minor in business, from Eastern Michigan University.

Her employers encouraged her to continue to law school; one--who was and still is a mentor to Kisabeth--left the practice to join the Cooley Law faculty, and Kisabeth followed as a student.

"Now that I'm a professor at Cooley too, we look back fondly on the 27 years we've known each other," she says.

Her bosses' confidence was not misplaced: Kisabeth landed on the Cooley Dean's List and Honor Roll, was ranked 21st in her class, won the Alumni Association's Distinguished Student Award, served as Editor-in-Chief of Cooley's Journal of Practical & Clinical Law, and as vice president of the Criminal Law Society.

After graduation, she worked as an associate attorney with Hubbard, Fox, Thomas, White & Bengtson in Lansing, then as associate general counsel with Delta Dental Plan of Michigan.

She first joined Cooley as an adjunct professor in 1998 and in 2008 became a faculty specialist and visiting faculty member teaching torts and contracts in the Professional Exploration Program.

"That program is very close to my heart because it's an amazing alternative admission program - it allows individuals who were not accepted to law school through the traditional application process the opportunity to gain admission if they're able to successfully complete a week-long program that gives Cooley faculty and staff a chance to assess whether we think they would be successful law students, despite not being accepted through the traditional process," Kisabeth says. "We've had great success and it gives me a great sense of fulfillment in helping these individuals -many of them are so grateful. We gave them a chance when no one else did - and the success rate of these students is phenomenal."

While Kisabeth has taught at the Lansing and Grand Rapids campuses since she began teaching full-time, she will be primarily teaching torts at Cooley's Auburn Hills campus starting this summer. She has also taught legal interviewing and investigation as an adjunct professor at Lansing Community College.

"Many jobs don't provide positive reinforcement and very few jobs allow one to gain personal satisfaction," she said. "I get both from teaching."

A member of the Cooley American Inn of Court, Kisabeth also serves as a board member of the Cooley Elder Law Clinic, where she once learned the ropes as a student.

"I enjoy watching students learn to actually practice law, representing real clients and solving real problems, and seeing the number of elderly benefiting from the students' service," she said. "It's a mutually beneficial arrangement--senior citizens who need legal services, and students who need to learn, hands on, how to be a lawyer and counselor of law, and not just read about it in a textbook."

Kisabeth earned a certificate from the University of San Diego's Institute on International and Comparative Law at Oxford University in England.

"I really enjoyed studying at Magdalen College; I loved learning about the university and the city--the history is amazing. And I enjoyed seeing how different the methodology of studying law in England is from the U.S.--as well as the difference in their legal system, very different than here."

A native of Westland, Kisabeth grew up in the Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor area. Her husband James, an entrepreneur with building, photography, and financial planning to his name, designed and built the family's lakeside home in Laingsburg; and the couple also plans to build a new home in Clarkston.

In her leisure time, Kisabeth enjoys water skiing, downhill skiing, bike riding, relaxing at the family's cottage on Lake Michigan, and visiting her husband's family in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. She is a fan of true crime novels, especially those relating to Michigan; and dabbles in the history of Great Lakes shipwrecks.

Published: Mon, Apr 23, 2012

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