Law clerk discovers she enjoys the challenge of criminal defense work

Michigan State University Law School student Elizabeth Kingston, who is a teaching assistant for Professor Paul Stokstad.

by Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Elizabeth Kingston struggled to decide on a major at Grand Valley State University, until she took a legal studies course – and her career course was set. She went on to graduate cum laude from the Frederik Meijer Honors College with a bachelor’s degree in legal studies and history, was named to the Dean’s List each year, and was named Outstanding Legal Studies Student of 2011-2012.

“I decided on the legal field because it combined my love of writing with an incredible versatility of subject area,” she explains.

While at GVSU, she interned for Genesee County Community Mental Health (GCCMH), where she had the opportunity to participate in the county's pilot Mental Health Court (MHC) program that diverts offenders who are committing crimes due to underlying mental illnesses from the regular court system, and provides treatment and rehabilitation with judicial oversight.

She also participated in Assertive Community Treatment, providing daily or weekly in-home visits to Flint residents suffering from severe mental illnesses who were unable to care for themselves.

“My internship with GCCMH was my first exposure to the interaction between legal and social work, and serves as a valuable reminder to me that the law is not just an academic debate,” she says.

Kingston helped finance her GVSU studies by working part-time as a paralegal at Stenger & Stenger, P.C., in Grand Rapids, and as a category specialist at Victoria's Secret.

“While it may seem like an odd choice for a future attorney, my retail experience helped me to become more confident and engaged in dealing with clients – both the happy and the dissatisfied,” she says.

But Kingston, who has also done paralegal work for Detroit-based Leisanne Smeadala, LLC, didn't originally plan on becoming a lawyer, with its commitment and cost of attending law school.

“I enjoyed my work as a paralegal – however, as I continued working, I realized I wanted more independence, greater responsibilities, and more client interaction,” she says.
Now in her third year at Michigan State University College of Law, Kingston enjoys the community

“Despite the competitive nature of law school, I’ve always found my colleagues – as well as the staff and professors – to be approachable and helpful,” she says.

She is in her second year of working with Professor Paul Stokstad as a Teaching Assistant for the first-year courses of Research, Writing, & Analysis and Appellate Advocacy.

“I get to design and host workshops with small groups of first-year students, helping them to understand the nuances of legal citation and argument,” she says. “My favorite part is being able to serve as a mentor to 1Ls and helping to guide them through what is an incredibly challenging time in their lives.”

She also is clerking for Baird & Zulakis, P.C., in Okemos, where she enjoys the interaction between criminal defense work and social work.

“I have the fortune of working for attorney George Zulakis, who considers the long term effects of involvement with the criminal justice system to his clients and not just the immediate outcome of the case,” she explains.

“For clients whose best outcome involves diversionary programs or plea deals, we work with them to identify underlying stressors, mental illnesses, or environments that have contributed to allegedly criminal behavior, and link these clients to resources like community service and therapy for rehabilitation purposes.”

Kingston sits in on initial client interviews, attends court hearings, performs research for upcoming cases, and helps manage the marketing of the firm.

She has also clerked at the Michigan Court of Appeals in Lansing.

“I learned an incredible amount about the appellate process and was able to really hone my research and writing skills,” she says.

Kingston has two upcoming publications in the field of criminal law. She received an offer of publication first for “Keeping Up with Jones: The Need to Abandon the Open Fields Doctrine,” her student note written last year as a staff member of the Michigan State Law Review, and that advocates for the abandonment of the open fields doctrine in light of the Supreme Court's recent return to property analysis in Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.

“I received fantastic mentorship and guidance from editors Jackie Kittel and Kent Sparks throughout the writing process, and hope to do the same for our 2L members in my position as Notes Editor this year,” she says.

Her second publication, due out in December, is “A Rose by any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet: How Aggregate Sentencing Violates Miller v. Alabama,” describing the process of using aggregate term-of-years juvenile sentencing to create de facto life imprisonment in violation of constitutional standards.

One of three siblings, Kingston is a native of Grand Blanc, near Flint, where her father works for General Motors, and her mother works for the Grand Blanc Community School District.

Kingston moved to Grand Rapids for GVSU and stayed for another year while working, before moving to Bath in the East Lansing area, to attend MSU Law.

“I enjoy being within 10 minutes of both a Big Ten college town and a professional city,” she says.

In her leisure time, she loves to attend Spartan football games, plays on a weekly trivia league, and enjoys taking time off to head up north.

An avid animal lover, her recent volunteer work has been focused in animal welfare. She previously worked at Crash’s Landing & Big Sid’s Sanctuary in Grand Rapids, a no-cage feline shelter for felines with FIV and FeLV.

“Nowadays, I volunteer at Capital Area Humane Society giving TLC and behavior training,” she says. “It definitely helps to alleviate the daily grind of law school!”

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