Attorney honored for her work with program that connects lawyers with Detroit students

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

Kimberly Yourchock sees the work she does with students interested in the law as a responsibility passed down from the attorneys who helped her when she was just beginning to consider a law career.

"One of the things that inspired me to get involved in the School Partnership Program was the generosity of time I received then," she says. "Karen Kienbaum took me in as a 19-year-old intern and gave me a place to just be around the law, to feel it, hear it and smell it on a daily basis. She also welcomed me back when I started law school. That experience sparked my interest in a serious way."

Family members insist that she was headed for the law at a much earlier age.

"My parents have made fun of me for years saying that I was probably three when I first showed some legal potential in the form of making what I thought were logical arguments."

Yourchock was named "Barrister of the Year" for her service as part of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association's Barristers Section for young attorneys. She co-chaired the 2012-2013 Barristers' School Partnership Program (SPP), which connects area attorneys with high school students in Detroit public schools and provides mentorship and educational opportunities.

Her practice at Jackson Lewis LLP in Southfield focuses on defending employers in both state and federal court cases involving discrimination, sexual harassment, whistleblower, wage and hour, breach of contract, retaliation, family medical leave and wrongful discharge.

She also advises employers on issues such as best practices, disability issues, force reductions, workplace privacy and terminations. In 2012 she was named a Michigan Super Lawyers Rising Star.

There are few areas of the law that have changed as dramatically as workplace law in the last 50 years.

"It's a challenge to keep up and you're always learning," she says. "A large part of what we do is stay abreast of all the sweeping changes in the laws affecting workplaces. Reading new cases, reading new statutes and proposed legislation and thinking about how they might affect our clients."

Yourchock has deep Michigan roots having been born in Royal Oak, attended Royal Oak Kimball High School, then Kalamazoo College, then Wayne State University Law School. After a period of wandering, she found herself drawn back to the Detroit area.

"I've lived all over, but I'm glad to be back," she says

At a time when relations between law students and their schools can be complicated, Yourchock added a plug for her school, which she credits in part for her quick career start.

"The legal community here is big, but it's small," she said. "Going to Wayne Law is a big advantage because it connects you to well-established and distinguished alumni. I've found them to be generous with their time with young attorneys."

Those early boosts from older attorneys also inspired her current involvement with mentoring students through the Barristers group.

"I've always had an interest in teaching," Yourchock says. "(The School Partnership Program) has been in existence for more than 10 years now. I was drawn to it by my interest in kids and education. I've done things like mentoring and I was a substitute teacher. It seemed like a natural fit for me."

Yourchock expanded the SPP relationship with the group Teach for America and redesigned the SPP schedule to utilize technology to enhance relationships between students and attorney volunteers.

Teach For America (TFA) is a non-profit group whose mission is to "eliminate educational inequity by enlisting high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach" for at least two years in low-income communities. Since the first corps was established in 1990, more than 28,000 members have completed their commitment.

The youngsters Yourchock has worked with sometimes start out cautious and distant and then become enthused and passionate.

"It's such a cool thing to witness," she says. "After the kids get over the initial awkwardness of sitting down with an attorney, the ideas they come up with surprise the attorneys. They're so creative and wise."

And Yourchock definitely believes that she's witnessing the beginnings of at least some distinguished legal careers.

"One of our essay winners this year was a high school freshman," she says. "She wrote a brilliant essay about social media, censorship and First Amendment issues. Her goal is to be a Supreme Court justice and I think she could do it."

Yourchock doesn't have to pretend to be excited about the law when she works with students. The excitement is real and heartfelt.

"One thing I love about being a lawyer is that you're always learning," she says. "No two days are the same. Just when you think you've got a handle on whatever law or ruling you're dealing with, something will change or a client will raise a nuance to consider.

"It's a challenge and very rewarding."

Published: Tue, Aug 27, 2013