Longtime dream: Scholarship winner stays true to passion for legal work


(Photo courtesy of Riley Stheiner)

By  Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Riley Stheiner dreamed of becoming a lawyer as early as seventh grade, but after finishing her undergrad degree in legal studies and criminal justice from Grand Valley State University, had second thoughts.

“I wasn’t sure if law school was for me and I struggled to push myself to take the LSAT,” she says. “During COVID and when the stay-at-home order happened, I was laid off from my job. I was at a crossroads as to whether I wanted to attend law school or pursue another degree in criminal justice. Ultimately, I decided to stay true to
my longtime dream of pursuing a J.D.”

While in undergrad, Stheiner spent 14 months as a legal assistant at Stenger & Stenger PC in Grand Rapids. She also interned for the City of Grand Rapids Attorney’s Office.

“This internship gave me a lot of direct exposure to municipal legal matters,” she says. “I was given a number of research assignments and it was something I found I really enjoyed.”

In September 2020, Stheiner started at WMU-Cooley Law School.

A highlight has been winning the WMU-Cooley Intraschool Moot Court competition in the fall of 2021 and serving as the Michigan campus Moot Court Board
president; and she later participated in the Region 6 qualifier for the New York City Bar Association/American College of Trial Lawyers National Moot Court Competition at Case Western Reserve University last November. She and her Moot Court team argued a case about the Prison Mailbox Rule and whether the
prisoner's blanket policy against gender affirmation surgery for prisoners suffering from gender dysphoria constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the 8th Amendment.

Stheiner is interning with the Prosecuting Attorneys Association of Michigan (PAAM) at the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office.

“The hands-on experience I’ve had this summer is invaluable to my goal of becoming a litigator,” she says. “The prosecution staff has been helpful, supportive, and have given me direct opportunities to participate in the criminal justice system.”

Stheiner  serves as a teaching assistant for the Personal and Professional Responsibility class; and working as a research assistant.

“I enjoy being a TA and helping student approach learning from a different aspect,” she says. “Law school is challenging and having diverse resources available helps students to be more successful.”

She also serves as president of the Student Bar Association and previously served as mentorship chair.

“I highly recommend that all law students participate in their school’s student bar association as it’s a great networking opportunity and a way for people to get involved in student advocacy,” she says. “Serving as president of the SBA has helped me so much in my professional growth and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”

In addition, she is a member of the Organization of Women Law Students (OWLS); and a member of Scribes – The American Society of Legal Writers.  

“Being a member of OWLs has connected me to the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan and my participation in this summer’s WLAM summer leadership class,” she says. “I’m looking forward to connecting with other women law students and attorneys.”

The Managing Articles Editor of the WMU Cooley Law Review, Stheiner says her goal is to be published in the school’s law review.

Stheiner was honored for all her hard work by receiving the 2022 Ralph M. Freeman Law School Scholarship from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Named for the late U.S. District Judge Ralph M. Freeman and his late wife, Emmalyn, the scholarship is awarded to a third-year law student in Michigan who has excelled in school competitions and/or been a service to Moot Court, Mock Trial, ADR, or similar activities. She was honored with the $1,000 scholarship during a ceremony at U.S. District Court in Detroit.   

“I’m incredibly honored to be recognized by the WMU Cooley faculty as the recipient of this year’s Freeman Scholarship,” she says.

“It’s humbling to have my interests in litigation and participation in moot court validated by a group of faculty I respect. I’m so thankful to Professor Martha Moore for her support and for believing in me.”


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