Plans underway to start local 'Inns of Court' chapter


By Frank Weir

Legal News

Plans are underway to begin a Washtenaw County chapter of the American Inns of Court. Washtenaw's chapter will be a tri-partnership between the Washtenaw Judiciary, the Washtenaw County Bar Association and the Thomas M. Cooley Law School, Ann Arbor campus.

Joan Vestrand, associate dean of Cooley's Ann Arbor campus, took the lead in getting a chapter off the ground with an informational meeting last week with most of the county's judges.

At the WCBA's annual Bench Bar gathering last Friday, Vestrand and Judge Timothy Connors, who was elected Inns chancellor at the organizational meeting, told luncheon attendees about the development.

The pair said the chapter would be part of the American Inns of Court, a national organization whose mission is ''to foster excellence in professionalism, ethics, civility, and legal skills.''

Vestrand noted that there are five chapters in the state currently including in Oakland County, at the University of Detroit, two in Ingham County including at Cooley's Lansing campus and at MSU's College of Law, and in Grand Rapids.

Inn membership is divided into teams. Given that part of the vision of the Inns of Court is to celebrate diversity and non-exclusivity, ''pupilage teams'' include judges along with lawyers of varying years of experience as well as law students.

Washtenaw hopes to have teams with two judges on each along with two lawyers with 15 or more years of experience (masters);'' two lawyers of five to 10 years experience (barristers) and two lawyers with zero to five years experience (associates). Two law students also will be included on each team.

Between September and May, one team presents that month's one-hour program based on a hypothetical fact pattern selected over the summer by the local Inn's executive committee.

The committee would assign one different aspect of the case to each team. Teams then develop their program to present new statutes or case law that might surround that aspect of the hypothetical, Vestrand explained.

For instance, the first team to present a program, might touch on how a law firm decides to take a case with such a fact pattern in Michigan's economy, how to develop a case strategy and theme, how to address the client's demands to keep costs down and so forth.

At the next month's meeting, the second team might present a program on discovery such as the do's and don'ts of depositions; how to prepare for a deposition and who should be deposed under the fact pattern.

In future months, succeeding teams might present programs about motion practice, trial preparation, voir dire, evidentiary maters (impeaching a witness or refreshing recollection), mediation and appellate practice.

Vestrand stressed that most Inns strive to make the programs fun as well as tutorial and informative.

''In Oakland County, they are sure to make them fun. They like to use skits quite a bit in their program presentations and, believe it or not, even singing and dancing have found their way into their programs.''

Other programs might feature a guest speaker or panel discussion.

Each program includes, as part of the one-hour segment, 15 to 20 minutes of open dialogue among the entire Inn membership about that evening's program topic and this is often the most valuable aspect of Inn participation.

Part of the Inn tradition is the requirement to break bread together. This can be as simple or elaborate as the Inn chooses.

Washtenaw has initially chosen to have light appetizers for a half hour preceding the program. Vestrand stressed that programs are not to last more than one hour in addition to the half-hour appetizer portion.

She said that an introductory ''mixer'' will be held this September with team rosters announced along with assigned program topics.

Programs would begin in October.

The executive committee for the Washtenaw County American Inn of Court includes those who attended the organizational meeting: Judge Timothy Connors, chancellor, Judge Archie Brown, Judge J. Cedric Simpson, Judge Elizabeth Hines, Joan Vestrand, Karen Valvo, James Cameron, Delphia Simpson, Judy Moskus, Frank Weir and Mark Boonstra.

Membership chairman is Frank Weir and anyone interested in joining the Washtenaw Chapter should send email to: setting forth their name, P number, date of admission to practice, years in practice, areas of practice and size of law firm or other legal association where employed.

Those interested will receive more information as the chapter develops in the summer.

Membership dues have not yet been finalized but will be kept as reasonable as possible.

Published: Thu, May 12, 2011