'Space nerd': Law student also is a NASA solar system ambassador


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Law student Emily Elmer comes from a long line of lawyers, including her uncle, John O’Neill, who was a partner at the  firm of Williams Williams Rattner & Plunkett.

“Our family holidays were always full of what I will affectionately refer to as ‘spirited intellectual debate’ about current affairs,” Elmer says with a smile. “They would often ‘cold call’ on us children to get our take on the issues, so even as young children, we were encouraged to have defined opinions on controversial topics and be able to justify that opinion with facts. It instilled a real passion for law and policy in me, even at an early age.

“Law is how you affect change in the world—the means by which we’ve advanced our societal standards throughout human history. It’s ever evolving and offers each of us the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants and continue to create a more just and equitable world.”

Throughout her undergraduate education, Elmer worked full time and attended school at night.

“I started by obtaining a paralegal certification because I felt working in the law prior to law school would be invaluable experience – which it was,” she says.

Elmer worked as a litigation paralegal at Garan Lucow Miller.

“I really enjoy the fast pace and challenges of litigation,” she says. “Being confronted with new issues, researching them and creating new and innovative ways to overcome challenges keeps me intellectually engaged. Having firsthand experience with the litigation process has really helped me in classes like civil procedure.”

A Dean’s Fellow, Elmer is a student in the 3+3 program at Detroit Mercy Law and Oakland University, in which the 1L year also serves as the final year of undergraduate studies. “The 3+3 program is an excellent opportunity for anyone who wants to go to law school—anyone interested in law school should definitely look into it,” she says.

“I’m incredibly humbled and grateful to have been selected as a Dean’s Fellow. Working full time and going to school full time for the last four years was not easy, and having recognition for all that hard work I put in is very meaningful to me. I’m deeply grateful to Dean Rumschlag and everyone else at UDM who believed in me.”

A member of the Black Law Student Association and chair of the events committee for the Jewish Bar Association of Michigan, Elmer enjoys her law school experience, and has adapted well to online learning.

“It also helps that my husband is a computer programmer, so I have at-home IT support!” she says. “I was a bit concerned at first about how I’d be able to network with other students and form study groups, but some industrious students made a group chat on Whats App for our entire class, so we were able to interact with each other. Through that I was able to get to know my classmates and form study groups for each class. We do our study groups via Zoom. Everyone seems to have adjusted well. In some ways, it’s actually beneficial because we’re not losing time every day commuting to school, so we can spend that time studying instead.

“The only thing I find challenging is managing my hyperactive dog when I’m cold called in class—I’ll be explaining a complicated case and suddenly she’ll see a squirrel through the window and go absolutely nuts. We love her though.”

Elmer, whose long-term goal is to one day sit on the bench, is looking forward to being involved with the school’s Veterans’ Law Clinic next year.

“Several members of my family are combat veterans, so I was extremely excited about having an opportunity to serve our American heroes,” she says.

A native of Romeo in Macomb County, who now makes her home in Rochester Hills in Oakland County, with her husband Andrew and daughter, Storm, Elmer enjoys life in the Greater Detroit area.

“I love Detroiters—they know what it means to work hard and overcome adversity,” she says.

Beyond her legal studies, Elmer describes herself as “a big space nerd,” and has relished watching launches at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. In 2018, she was part of the NASA Social for the launch of the Parker Solar Probe. “I got to meet Dr. Eugene Parker and many of the engineers who built the Probe. It was an absolutely amazing experience,” she says.

As a NASA solar system ambassador, last year she created and presented a summer science learning series in partnership with the Detroit Public Library—the pandemic kiboshed her presentations this year but she looks forward to returning to them soon.


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