Cooley Law student adds federal clerkship to resume

Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of stories profiling young lawyers and law students as they face a tough job market.

By Jo Mathis

Legal News

Rabih Hamawi expects to graduate in January 2015 from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Ann Arbor and is concerned about the bleak job market for graduates of most fields, including law.

That's why he's doing everything he can now to increase his chances of becoming a Michigan business law attorney one day.

Hamawi is one of 17 law school students selected to participate in the Wolverine Bar Association's Summer Clerkship/Judicial Externship Program. The students work for U.S. District Court judges from the Eastern District of Michigan started by Judge Victoria Roberts in 2001 to expand federal clerkship opportunities for minority students.

He is one of three clerks working this summer in the United States District Court (federal court) for the eastern District of Michigan at Judge John O'Meara's chambers in Ann Arbor. The externs were required to submit their transcripts, a writing sample and a letter of recommendation, as well as interview for the post.

''I think it's very difficult to come someplace as a new immigrant and establish yourself and he's done so well so far,'' said Michelle M. Lund, who has been O'Meara's career law clerk for 11 years. ''I think he's going to be a great lawyer.''

It's Hamawi's first job in law.

"I get to see the inner workings of the legal system on the federal level," he said, standing at his desk overlooking downtown Ann Arbor.

O'Meara said he's grateful to have Hamawi working for him.

''He's going to be an outstanding lawyer," said O'Meara, "but he's also a very good person who cares about the right things.''

The job mostly involves research and writing, and writing memos for motions for summary judgments and motions to dismiss, and sitting in on oral arguments on the four days each week O'Meara is in court.

In his first week on the job, Hamawi was exposed to much of what he's studied in law school, and credits Cooley for the practical knowledge he has about the law. He also thanks Karen Poole and the Career Development Office for preparing him for the interview with Roberts by arranging four mock interviews at Cooley.

"When I was talking to other candidates (from other schools), I was surprised that most of them had either only one or two (mock interviews)," he said.

Hamawi, who moved to Michigan 10 years ago with $20 in his pocket and a law degree he'd earned in Lebanon, earned a master's degree in finance from Walsh College in Troy, and was a top insurance advisor at a Southfield firm before entering law school.

That business background will help him in a tough job market one day, said the Dearborn resident.

He said many law students stick only to academics, neglecting to get real world experience. They also fail to keep up with the changes that affect the practice of law.

"You will not be serving yourself and your community properly if you're only taking the academic aspect of the law," he said. "The academic is only maybe 30 percent of the real deal. It is all about paying attention to the surroundings in your community and the country in general. So this way you can tailor new skills to properly address changes and adopt to them.

Hamawi has been on the dean's list since he entered law school.

"But law firms are not hiring people based on their grades only," he said. "They are looking at what that person can bring to the table, much like a potluck lunch or dinner. One of the things you can bring to the table as a law student is your knowledge and vision about the economic and business climate in the country. At the end of the day, law firms are businesses that are concerned about bottom line results."

After he's done this summer, he'll apply for a summer associate position for next summer.

"I'm just trying to get as much experience as I can so when I graduate, I'm ready to either find a position at a large and diverse law firm, or start my own practice in Michigan," he said.

Published: Thu, Jun 20, 2013