Return to their roots-- Attorneys join faculty of alma mater

By Mike Scott

Legal News

Two of the new full-time professors at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law have long wanted to teach at their alma mater. And they both have realized the goal this semester.

Sheldon Stark, most recently the director of Specialty Programs for the Institute of Continuing Legal Education (ICLE), and Joseph Pia, a shareholder in the tax department of Hyman Lippitt in Birmingham, both are now part of the UDM Law staff. Along with Troy Harris, an international commercial dispute resolution expert most recently with the firm of King & Spalding in Atlanta, they comprise the new full-time faculty members at UDM this fall.

Stark joined the UDM Law faculty as a distinguished visiting professor. He is teaching Pre-Trial Litigation Skills in both the fall and winter semesters and Employment Discrimination in the winter term.

He graduated from the UDM School of Law in 1973, moving on to become partner in the firm Stark & Gordon from 1977-99, where he specialized in employment discrimination, wrongful discharge, civil rights, and personal injury work.

In 1999, Stark joined ICLE as education director, later becoming director of Specialty Programs. He received the Bernard Gottfried Bill of Rights Day Award in December 1999 and the Distinguished Service Award from the Labor and Employment Law Section of the State Bar of Michigan in 2009. He was the 2010 recipient of the Michael Franck Award presented by the Representative Assembly of the State Bar of Michigan.

Stark has always wanted to teach law school going back to his practicing days and time at the ICLE. There he served as the director of Specialty Programs where he was largely responsible for developing courses for practicing lawyers to help them succeed in their jobs.

His interest in joining the UDM faculty was further piqued by his daughter Molly, who recently graduated second in her class at UDM School of Law and is now practicing with a private firm in New York City.

"When Molly was in law school, I did some presentations at some of her classes and I got to know the dean and many of the professors there," Stark said. "That's when my interest was really rekindled. Although now that I am back teaching I have been told that I have a lot to live up to because of Molly's success. I can tell you I don't mind being known as her father."

Once Stark retired from ICLE he considered offers from both UDM Law and Wayne State University Law School. But the UDM opportunity appealed to him for several reasons. First, Stark earned his law degree from UDM and secondly, the courses that he will teach fit in line with his background and schedule.

His role at UDM Law will allow Stark to pursue two other passions. One is the opportunity to provide a range of mediation services to his own clients. The other is to work with the ACLU of Michigan. He is running for the position of vice president on the executive committee this fall, and he hopes to work with the state chapter to develop strategies that increase the effectiveness and impact it has on Michigan residents.

"I really have some very good memories and enjoyed my time in law school," Stark said. "That may sound interesting and unusual. Once I became a litigator, I wanted to have an impact on how young lawyers develop their skills and see their role. And it allows me to help them to understand how to practice law with such features as honest, civility, and professionalism."

Pia formerly served as an adjunct professor at UDM Law and now joins the faculty full time as a visiting assistant professor. A Rochester Hills resident, Pia is teaching Corporate Tax, Partnership Tax, and Business Planning in the fall, then Analytical Tools (Core Concepts) and Basic Federal Income Tax in the spring.

Pia earned his bachelor of science degree in accounting from the University of Detroit in 1985. He is also a 1994 graduate of the UDM School of Law. Since 1998, Pia has been an associate and then a shareholder in the tax department of Hyman Lippitt in Birmingham. He has taught as an adjunct professor for several colleges and universities in the metro Detroit area.

Like Stark, Pia enjoyed his experience as a student at UDM Law. He went on to obtain his master's degree in taxation at New York University.

"I always had a desire to join the faculty at UDM Law," Pia said. "It means a lot to me that I was asked to join the faculty full time."

He works in a specialty legal area that is particularly steady even through challenging economic periods locally and nationally.

"Tax is very important in both an up and down economy," Pia said. "We've had a very consistent group of students over the years and recently there has actually been an uptick in the number of students (at UDM Law) entering tax."

Pia's interest in taxation was piqued when he was in law school because he quickly understood that the subject is at the heart of corporate and business law. That's where his love of the subject grew.

"It always seemed to be a driving force behind the business deal or transaction," Pia said. "I wanted to be involved in the structuring of a transaction and this was a great way to do that."

The two classes Stark will teach include Pre-Trial Litigation and Employment Discrimination. The Pre-Trial Litigation course is divided into two competing law firms and it will feature a case from research to an active trial. Stark has recruited lawyers who will role play both as clients and witnesses. There will be a week of depositions later in the semester and two federal judges have been secured by Stark to serve as mediators of the disputes. The Employment Discrimination course is part of UDM's law school program. It is designed for students to be "practice ready."

"We'll engage in discovery, negotiating and settlements," Stark said. "I hope it will help students learn how to practice discrimination law in a firm setting. I do believe both courses really will teach topics from a practical perspective."

Pia's courses are largely problem oriented. His students work through problems that have a set of facts. Students then build the complete puzzle piece by piece to understand the legal concepts behind the work.

"We go through the facts and focus on one code section or an exception to the code section at a time," Pia said.

Pia feels that his work as a law school professor will allow him to make a positive impact on the lives of future lawyers.

"It's a great atmosphere here at the school and since I was a student it has always been an atmosphere where I have felt comfortable," Pia said.

Published: Fri, Oct 1, 2010

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