Law student to direct symposium in March

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Bridget Underhill’s introduction to the law was in elementary school when her older sister was in family court to get custody of her son.

“I was able to go to court with my sister and mother and I was absolutely fascinated by everything from the judge to the clerks,” Underhill says. “I couldn’t really put it into words then, but even at such a young age, I recognized the impact that just one hearing can have on people’s lives.

“Over time, as I learned more about the accessibility of the legal system, I realized how many people feel fear and confusion when interacting with the law. I think the law is like a language that not everyone is lucky enough to learn and lawyers have an obligation to share that knowledge with others.”

A 3L student at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and heading towards graduation, Underhill earned her undergrad degree from Grand Valley State University in political science and international relations. She then dipped a toe into legal waters by working as a paralegal in Grand Rapids.

“I appreciated communicating with clients regularly, and I learned about balancing the demands of private practice,” she says.

She headed to Detroit Mercy Law a couple of years later, and has been involved in Law Review, American Constitution Society, Women’s Law Caucus, and 1L Student Government.

“I feel at home at Detroit Mercy Law,” she says. “The friends I’ve made, the faculty, and the opportunity to grow as a leader are all things that have defined my experience.”

Underhill is symposium director for the Law Review’s 104th annual Symposium, focusing on Race, Class, and Environmental Justice. The event, set for 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on
Friday, March 6, at Detroit Mercy Law, will host four panels, a lunch keynote conversation, and a reception displaying local art created from recycled materials. Topics include how the effects of climate change, water quality, natural disasters, and food supply impact marginalized communities. Registration and additional information are available at https://detroitmercysymposium2020.eventbrite.com

“As symposium director, it’s been an honor to work with nearly 20 national and local speakers and welcome them to Detroit Mercy Law,” Underhill says. “I’ve learned a lot about managing a team because of the need for delegating so many tasks each day. I’m fortunate to have such wonderful colleagues to help make the event a great one for our community. We’re especially excited to explore ways in which we can increase environmentally sustainable aspects of the event.”

She also is excited to be published in Law Review this year. Her article “Moving Closer to Pay Parity by Requiring Wage Transparency: A Private Sector National Standard” explores how less secrecy around pay rates in public sector, union, and private sector jobs have increased pay parity.

Underhill worked as a student attorney at the Federal Pro Se Clinic at U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

“Our professor, Kevin Carlson, taught us a lot about working with indigent applicants in civil matters,” she says. “I noticed the gap in connecting pro se applicants with attorneys. In the future, I’d love to be involved in a project to create a Michigan database to better connect these parties.”

The opportunity to intern in 2018 for U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Phillip Shefferly, Eastern District of Michigan, was “an absolute joy,” she says.

“My immediate supervisor, Barbara Bailey, is a brilliant teacher. Even after the most confusing motion days, I knew both Mrs. Bailey and Judge Shefferly would help me to learn the Bankruptcy Code effectively and apply it to what I was seeing,” she says. “I observed Chapter 7 and Chapter 11 motions, adversary proceedings, a creditor’s meeting, a debtor’s orientation, and other various motions.

“The internship revealed to me my interest in business law, including secured transactions and real estate, as well as the benefits of a collegial culture in the practice of law.”
One of her most treasured memories of law school was founding the Distinguished Alumni Portrait Committee.

“During orientation, I noticed the walls of the school were adorned with portraits, none of which represented women or minorities,” she says. “At the end of my first year, with the help of Professor Pamela Wilkins, I started the project to commission the first female portrait at the school. It was an enriching experience because so many of my classmates joined the project. We unveiled the stunning portrait of Judge Denise Langford-Morris in March of 2019.”

Last year, Underhill worked as a summer associate at Dykema.

“I couldn’t help but feel inspired while learning from such bright and sophisticated legal professionals,” she says. “On the first day, I met my mentors, Doug Fryer and Nina Gavrilovic, and I could already tell a phenomenal summer was ahead of me. In addition to my mentors, everyone at the firm was so welcoming and friendly. There were even associates in the Dallas office who were willing to provide me with helpful feedback.

“I think second to the people, I was most pleased by how much my legal writing improved. I felt very fortunate to explore diverse projects including real estate, environmental law, civil litigation, and employment matters.”

Underhill will be joining Dykema’s Real Estate group after the bar exam in July.

“Although I never anticipated real estate would be my legal focus, I was fascinated with my property and contracts courses my first year of law school,” she says.

“It makes sense because when I was younger I was already learning from my mother, Tammey Underhill, about her real estate career. I remember looking at her listings on the MLS system and going to showings with her. Now, even my boyfriend, Zach Lewy, is a realtor. It’s been a sort of full circle experience seeing my interests culminate into a real estate legal career.”

Underhill has volunteered as a childcare provider at Safe Haven Ministries, providing childcare programming while domestic violence victims attended support groups.

“I learned about empowering children to develop coping mechanisms and positive ways to deal with stress,” she says. “Everyone deserves a safe and supportive learning environment and I really enjoyed helping provide that to the children.”

Underhill’s long-term interest in the legal field is equaled by her affection for Italian culture. While still at Jenison High School, she started studying Italian at Grand Valley, and studied at the University for Foreigners and the University of Perugia in Italy for six months at 18.

“Assimilating into the culture quickly improved my fluency level,” she says. “Some of my fondest memories include eating Margherita pizza in Naples, attending mass at the Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, and paragliding in the Swiss Alps.”

Away from her studies, the Grosse Pointe Park resident enjoys spending time with her family, including three older sisters, and 10 nephews and nieces.

“It’s very helpful to take a break from studying and spend time with them,” she says. “We enjoy playing board games and pool parties at my parent’s house—they’ve a way of always making me laugh and surprising me with their thoughtfulness.”

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