Sibling students: Brother and sister learn the ropes at law school

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

The children of a solo practice attorney in Wyandotte, Katherine and Joe Kuzmiak are now both 2L students at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

“I’ve never been in the same school as my older brother and to be in graduate school with him is a surprise to many that know us,” Katherine says. “I’ve always looked to Joe for guidance in life and find it fun that we’re now on the same playing field. During the highs and lows of law school, it’s great to know
I have someone close to me who I can always go to and who always understand my law school jokes.”

Joe appreciates having his younger sister as a study buddy.

“Being in the same class and school has been a brand-new experience I’ve really enjoyed,” he says. “It’s great to have a family member to lean on as you’re going through stresses and challenges in law school.”

Katherine notes she and Joe could not succeed in law school without love and support from their family, where she and Joe are sandwiched between their older sister Annette and younger sister Grace.

“Our parents could not be more thrilled to have two of their children in the same law school class,” she says. “My dad has been a great role model to us throughout our journey in law school. I never thought I’d follow in his footsteps—but I always admired the passion and dedication he has for his job and seeing the respect his clients have for him.”

Like his sister, Joe was heavily influenced by his father’s career.

“I could tell how appreciative his clients were when he was able to assist them with their important and complex legal issues,” he says.

Both sibs started in the financial field. Katherine majored in business at Michigan State University’s Eli Broad College of Business, to obtain problem solving, presentation, and communication skills that could be transferred into any career. During undergrad, she held several supply chain management intern positions at small- to large-sized automotive part suppliers in the Detroit area.

It wasn’t until she approached the end of undergrad, and left many career fairs with feelings of wanting to accomplish more, that she decided to look at the legal profession.

Joe earned his undergrad degree in finance at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, followed by a master’s in finance.

“I found I learned the most from my classmates, who were successful professionals from a wide variety of industries,” he says. “In interactions with them, I gained a deeper practical knowledge of how finance and business fundamentals relate to many different business operations.”

After working as a cost accountant and financial analyst at AK Steel in Dearborn, he became a cost accounting analyst at Mastronardi Produce in Livonia.

Working alongside lawyers, he got an appreciation for the weight and significance of their work, piquing his interest in entering the legal field.

“I made the choice to leave my corporate finance career, but I believe the finance and business knowledge I’ve gained will be invaluable as I launch my legal career,” he says.

Both siblings are enjoying their law school experience. Katherine, whose goal is to practice commercial and business litigation and real estate in Metro Detroit, appreciates the tight-knit community.

“The professors as well as the administration are extremely supportive and resourceful in our learning both inside and outside of the classroom,” she says. “Detroit Mercy Law truly engages in each student’s life and wants to help us overcome our own obstacles, achieve our own goals, and leave law school as the complete lawyer.

“I also enjoy the collaborative environment—my classmates have become lifelong friends I know I can depend on now and into our careers.”

She likes the school’s location, in the heart and center of downtown Detroit.

“It’s only a short walk from the courts and law firms, making it easier for students to hold jobs during the school year and network with legal professionals,” she says. “It’s also not far from new restaurants and coffee shops in downtown, which is great when a break from the library is needed.”

Joe agrees the administration and professors are dedicated to student success—and says he felt that dedication from the moment he applied and through his 2L year.

“I also feel students have realized we’re not just classmates spending three years together but are each other’s future colleagues, and that we’re very supportive of one another,” he says.

Katherine, who next summer will be a law clerk at Ottwenwess, Taweel, & Schenk in downtown Detroit, enjoyed her hands-on experience as a law clerk at the Criminal Division of the Michigan Department of Attorney General, working in various areas of criminal law including welfare fraud, casino fraud, and human trafficking.

I was able to go on the record at 36th District Court and conduct preliminary examinations under the supervision of the assistant attorney generals,” she says. “I also received and addressed citizens’ concerns regarding state and local issues.”     

Joe calls this past summer’s externship with Michigan Supreme Court Justice Brian K. Zahra “an incredible experience.”

“I’d prepare legal memoranda for the Justice on a variety of legal issues before the Michigan Supreme Court—and make a recommendation on whether or not the Court should grant the petitioner’s leave to appeal their case,” he says. “I received invaluable feedback on my legal writing from Justice Zahra and his clerks.”

In his 1L year, Joe participated in the school’s Experiential Clinic at The Greening of Detroit, helping remove barriers that prevented people obtaining, renewing, or restoring a driver’s license. This year, he is a Contracts teaching assistant for 1L students,

A summer associate at Butzel Long next year, Joe plans to become a corporate attorney in Metro Detroit—and is particularly interested in practice areas related to mergers and acquisitions, labor and employment, and real estate. 

After moving to midtown Detroit this past summer, he is enjoying exploring the city.

“With all of the new development, it’s a very exciting time to be living in Detroit,” he says.

In his leisure time, he hits the links, and is a big fan of Michigan football and all the Detroit sports teams.

Katherine, who still lives in Grosse Ile where the siblings grew up, was a star tennis player at Grosse Ile High School. She currently plays tennis in a USTA league with former teammates, and in a golf league with her father; and she and Joe also have played golf at various Detroit Mercy Law events.

“I’m a huge Spartan fan—where Joe is a Michigan fan, so big sibling rivalry!—and love returning to East Lansing for football and basketball games,” she says. “Growing up, I always attended Detroit sports games with my dad and Joe and I still enjoy attending the games.”

Despite their heavy study load and extracurricular activities, sister and brother also volunteered at the Pope Francis Center, preparing food and visiting with the homeless.

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