By Frank Weir
The Ann Arbor campus of Cooley Law School opened just over a year and a half ago and has experienced a level of success and acceptance that its administrators had hoped for.
The campus, one of four in the state for the institution, opened in September of 2009 on the former site of Ave Maria School of Law at the intersection of Green Road and Plymouth Road in northwest Ann Arbor.
Cooley Ann Arbor’s entering class was made up of 84 students from across the country, according to Associate Dean and Professor Joan Vestrand, coming from as far away as Washington, California, Texas, Florida and Main.
And Vestrand smiles when she says, “The campus has been on a roll ever since.”
Currently, enrollment stands at more than 400 students with more than 100 already registered to start in September. And with a number of local lawyers and judges teaching at the campus, clearly Ann Arbor likes Cooley and vice versa.
“In keeping with its reputation, the community has been extremely welcoming and we could not be more appreciative of the friendly reception we have received,” Vestrand said recently. “Against this backdrop it is with great pleasure that I lead Cooley’s efforts in Ann Arbor.”
Assisting Vestrand in the campus’ administration is Martha Moore, who now serves as assistant dean of the campus. Former assistant dean, and well-known locally, Dan Ray, has returned to being a full time-professor.
“This way he no longer has to work so closely with me,” Vestrand teases.
“Dean Moore and I share much common history,” she continues. “We started working together more than 20 years ago as staff attorneys for the Michigan Attorney Grievance Commission. After 10 years with the agency, we became partners in private practice and later, within a year of each other, took teaching positions at Cooley’s Auburn Hills campus.
“She actually filled my vacancy on the faculty when I became the assistant dean in Auburn Hills and then took my place as assistant dean when I was asked to come to Ann Arbor. One year later, she joined me as my assistant dean here.”
Vestrand kids that, in sanctioning the move, Cooley’s president, Don LeDuc, knew better than to tamper with destiny.
She continues that her long professional partnership with Moore is rooted in deep friendship and a shared recognition of the importance of ethics and character in both personal and professional success.
And that devotion has continued in their work at the campus here.
“Our campus provides us with the opportunity to shape a culture and environment where ethics and character are front and center; first and foremost of importance,” Vestrand said. “In keeping with Cooley’s mission, from the moment students enter the building we attempt to set a tone—one that stresses personal integrity and deep regard for the welfare of others,
That message is also emphasized by 12 additional full time faculty and visiting faculty from the other campuses.
Vestrand’s interests in character and ethics helped lead her to Cooley in the first place she says.
“What attracted me foremost to Cooley is its commitment to graduate not only highly skilled and ethical practitioners but citizen lawyers devoted to community and the betterment of others.
“Cooley actively encourages students to focus on the less fortunate and to engage pro bono representation and community service on a regular basis. Like students across Cooley’s four campuses, our students have embraced the concept and actively seek out ways to be a good neighbor and to make a difference in the community.”
Vestrand can quote some numbers to back up what she says.
In the year 2010 alone, Cooley students and faculty donated more than 334,000 hours of free legal assistance. At 40 hours per week this equates to just over 160 years of legal work, she noted.
“Due to interest within the local bar, one of our outstanding pro bono programs, Service to Soldiers, may be coming to Washtenaw County. This is exciting.”
Service to Soldiers is a ground-breaking program that assists service men and women with varying legal needs and has been recognized in the state as well as nationally.
And Vestrand reports that a number of local projects have been taken up by Cooley faculty, staff and students including SafeHouse, Food Gatherers, Alpha House, the Salvation Army, the Washtenaw County United Way, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Legal Services for South Central Michigan, the Legal Resource Center and CASA.
Students have participated in cancer walks, raised money for hurricane relief and have supported many other causes, she noted proudly.
Vestrand was especially proud of a project dubbed Make Meals Happen last November.
“The students challenged the local bench and bar to work with them to provide a complete Thanksgiving dinner to 100 area families in need. Thanks to much generosity, their aggressive goal was met.”
And the charitable collaboration with the Washtenaw County Bar Association has continued into other projects. “Twice, the students have worked with these same good folks to collect
and send several tons of donated goods and sundries to deployed soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The members of the Washtenaw County Bar Association have been an invaluable partner in these efforts. Ann Arbor is a caring legal community with extraordinary heart and we thank you for being such fine role models for our students,” she said.
“To our indebted gratitude, the local legal community, so extremely talented and bright, is also playing a significant role in the education of our students. Several local lawyers and judges now teach at the campus and our students could not be in better hands.”
She continues that Cooley has always subscribed to the belief that lawyers are in the best position to educate law students in the knowledge, skills and ethics required for successful practice.
“Their wealth of practical knowledge and experience, leadership attributes, devotion to their craft and love for the profession make for powerful delivery of material and lasting impact on the students. Good lawyers and judges get it. They walk the walk and they care. The passion comes through.”
Adjunct faculty at the Ann Arbor campus now include Court of Appeals Judge Amy Krause; Washtenaw County Trial Court Judges Donald E. Shelton, Timothy Connors, and Archie Brown; local district court Judges Cedric Simpson and Betty Widgeon (ret.); Wayne County Juvenile Referee Jennifer Pilette; Robert Logeman (Logeman and Iafrate); Jose Bartolomei (Miller Canfield); Mark Heusel (Dickinson Wright); Peter Falkenstein (Jaffe Raitt); Douglas McClure (Conlin, McKenney and Philbrick); Anthony Patti (Hooper Hathaway); Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Riordan; Stacy Dinser; and Zena Zumeta.
Local lawyers and judges assist in the development of Cooley students outside the classroom as well, she said.
“Students are privileged to mentor with several area sitting judges who generously give of their time and they are increasingly being placed in local firms. Members of the profession come into our building to assist with our intra-school competitions, speak on an area of practice or on the importance of professionalism and service, to conduct mock interviews, and to participate as small group leaders in our Professionalism in Action orientation program.
“We recognize that it takes a village. We so appreciate the assistance. Thanks in no small part to the support we have received from the community, Cooley’s future in Ann Arbor looks bright,” Vestrand said.
“We are growing rapidly and now have an on-site LLM program in U.S. Studies for Foreign Lawyers which adds an exciting dynamic to the campus.”
And Vestrand is especially excited about an in-house clinic, which the legal community helped to plan, which is set to launch in September.
And as most know, Vestrand has been instrumental in getting a Washtenaw County Chapter of the American Inns of Court established here which also is set to begin this fall.
“Other exciting developments include our first few graduates due to receive their diplomas in December. A good number of those that make up the rest of the inaugural class will graduate next May. To my delight, some of our out-of-state students are deciding to make Ann Arbor their permanent home.
“This community clearly lives up to its reputation. It really is a great place to live, work, raise a family and retire.
“Again, as a native of East Lansing, I can only say, who woulda thunk?”
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