New 1L Clinic Represents Unemployed Workers

MLaw is One of Only Two Schools to Offer a 1L Clinic


Steve Gray

By Katie Vloet

Michigan Law has become only the second law school in the country to offer a clinic to first-year students with the introduction this year of the new Unemployment Insurance Clinic (UIC), in which second-semester 1Ls represent clients in their claims for state unemployment insurance benefits.

The clinic began this fall with summer starters and is being taught by Steve Gray, a clinical assistant professor. For several years, Gray supervised Michigan Law student volunteers who helped people who could not afford lawyers with unemployment insurance claims at the Michigan Unemployment Insurance (MiUI) Project. The UIC replaces that project, adding a structured curriculum and classroom component that will aid students in their representation of their clients and, ultimately, in their development as lawyers.

“Our law students from the get-go are really interested in getting their hands dirty, getting involved. Many students had been asking, ‘Why can’t it start earlier?’” says David Santacroce, clinical professor of law and associate dean for experiential education. “We had been looking at incorporating experiential learning in the first year, and then students asked if we could find a way to bring the type of work MiUI was doing into the curriculum. Educationally it made perfect sense, and we are lucky to have students who saw the educational potential in this work. We were also happy that we were able to put this clinic in place in less than a year after they contacted Dean West about the possibility.”

UIC students will interview and counsel clients, conduct fact investigations, write and file briefs, and, in the vast majority of cases, conduct full administrative trials, Santacroce says. And 2Ls and 3Ls who completed the clinic as 1Ls will have the opportunity to move beyond administrative hearings to more complex oral and written advocacy while providing peer support to first-year UIC students. The UIC also will give students first-hand exposure to social-justice issues. “They’ll learn a lot more about what it means to be struggling in today’s world,” Santacroce says. The Law School will gauge the UIC’s effectiveness in part by working with the University’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching on a study of learning outcomes.

Those who have been involved with the MiUI volunteer project have high hopes for the UIC. In letters to the dean, students who participated in MiUI lobbied for the UIC. One letter to Santacroce succinctly stated one benefit of the program: The volunteer MiUI project “is the reason I have a job,” the student wrote.

Andrew Junker, who is set to graduate in December, says he learned a great deal about how to be a lawyer from the volunteer experience. “The most important part of it is that you have clients you’re responsible for, and you want to do everything you can for them,” he says. “Our clients have been thrown into a regulatory process that’s really hard to navigate. Their former employer may send a lawyer to a hearing, and it can become lopsided pretty quickly. But with one of us there, the playing field is a lot more level.”

Gray says that, through their work with clients, the students are exposed in practice to things they learned about in class—the Rules of Evidence, for instance—as well as legal writing and thinking on their feet during a hearing. Just as important, he says, they learn what it means to represent a client.

“We have a binder full of thank-you notes,” Gray says, “and I have the students read those so they understand what a real difference a lawyer can make.”

Trio of MLaw Grads Obtain Prestigious U.S. Supreme Court Clerkships

By Jenny Whalen

Realizing something of a high court hat trick with their consecutive clerkships, three Michigan Law graduates soon will share the distinction of having served three of the foremost members of the nation’s judiciary: U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

With their clerkships, Michael Huston, ’11, Eli Savit, ’10, and Jake Brege, ’12, join a long history of Michigan Law alumni at the Court; more than 30 graduates have held Supreme Court clerkships in the last three decades alone. “A Supreme Court clerkship is one of the highest honors a law student can receive,” says Professor Joan Larsen, who coordinates clerkship applications for Michigan Law and who was a clerk herself, for Justice Antonin Scalia. “It is an extremely selective process. Those who are chosen possess a unique combination of talents.”

Having recently completed his year with Chief Justice Roberts, Huston is personally acquainted with the caliber of excellence expected in the chambers of a Supreme Court justice. “Clerking for Chief Justice Roberts was an incredible experience,” says Huston, who will return to Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to practice appellate litigation. “It was certainly something I will never forget. He is an absolute pleasure to work with, and I learned so much from him about the practice of law. To have the opportunity to work closely with him and to learn how he thinks about cases, and to some extent how other justices think about cases, was a very valuable experience.”

The Michigan Law mantle now passes to Savit, who has been selected to clerk for retired Justice O’Connor. Savit says he is looking forward to the unique set of responsibilities he will have as a clerk for a retired justice—supporting Justice O’Connor’s efforts to promote civic education and performing active court work when she is sitting on various courts of appeal—in addition to serving as a fifth clerk for Justice Ginsburg.

“It is certainly a thrill to work for any Supreme Court justice, but the opportunity to work for two of them is very rare and special,” Savit says. “I am humbled and honored to have the opportunity to build a relationship with two figures of this magnitude. There is not a single part of this job that I’m not excited about.”

This is a sentiment shared by Brege, who will begin his clerkship with Chief Justice Roberts in 2015. “Everyone I’d talked to in law school said clerking is about the best job you can have,” says Brege, who clerked last year for Senior Judge David Bryan Sentelle at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. “They were right. I have learned so much already, and a Supreme Court clerkship is an opportunity to gain insight that you just can’t get anywhere else. It’s truly an honor. I’m not sure where this clerkship will lead, but I know that just about every door is now open.”

Larsen advises students that brains, good judgment, social skills, maturity, and excellent writing ability are essential to be competitive for the clerkships. “You need to be at the very top of your class, and it helps to have served on the law review, often in an editorial board position,” she says. “You need the support of faculty to obtain recommendations, and to do that you need to make an impression. You need to demonstrate your engagement in the law.

“We are honored that the justices have recognized in our students that rare combination of legal brilliance and social acuity,” Larsen says. “A Supreme Court clerkship is an unparalleled experience and an unmatched credential for anything you would want to do in law.”

MLaw Surpasses 100 Clerkships for 2nd Straight Year


2014 Michigan Law Clerkships
(at press time)


2013 Michigan Law Clerkships

By Lori Atherton

For the 2014 term, 133 Michigan Law 3Ls and graduates (at press time) have secured clerkships—a total that surpasses the previous record of 117 clerkships that were secured by Michigan Law students and graduates in 2013. This is the third time in a decade that Michigan Law is celebrating the 100-plus mark for clerkships.

Geographically, Michigan Law’s clerks are spread out across the country and can be found at every level of the federal and state judiciaries, serving one- or two-year terms.

“We have at least one graduate placed in every U.S. circuit court for 2014,” says Greta Trakul, attorney-counselor and judicial clerkship adviser in the Office of Career Planning. “It’s a huge strength that we have alums clerking all over; it provides incredible support for our students wherever their clerkship opportunities might take them.”

Can I Be My Brother’s Keeper?

By Jenny Whalen

Sometimes it is mere sibling curiosity: How was school? Do you have any new friends? What would you like for your birthday? Other days, the motivation of an older brother’s interest is more profound: Do they treat you well? Are you happy? Safe?

Regardless of the intent, questions of this sort have rarely been answered for Justin McElwee. Placed in foster care at age 13, the now 20-year-old McElwee has become little more than a stranger to many of his six siblings—his relationship with them the victim of an overworked and underfunded child welfare system.

“When you’re separated from your siblings, you go through an emotional process,” says McElwee, who moved through half a dozen foster care facilities as a teen. “You begin by grieving, and eventually you come to the point of reconciling with the situation. That is where I’m at now. I’ve grown used to not seeing my siblings, and I don’t have those relationships.”

The separation of siblings is one of many all-too-common foster care themes that students in the Law School’s Legislation Clinic set out to rewrite last fall. Led by Professor Don Duquette, ’75, the one-year clinic offered students an opportunity to research, draft, and lobby on behalf of a series of proposals intended to improve child welfare law in Michigan.

“I aspired to have students find projects that spoke to them, so that they could go from identifying the issue and researching it in significant depth, to drafting the statutory language needed to implement the policy and shopping it to stakeholders,” says Duquette, also the founder of the Child Advocacy Law Clinic. “I’m pleased with how the arc worked out.”

Organized in teams of two and three, students pursued eight proposals during the course of the year, four of which were presented to lawmakers and other stakeholders during an April visit to the state Capitol. Three of those proposals—addressing parental visitation, reinstatement of parental rights, and sibling placement and visitation (divided into two bills)—are now on track to becoming Michigan law, after Michigan Senator Rick Jones introduced them to the state Legislature in June.

Jones—a Republican from west Michigan—has witnessed firsthand the challenges facing Michigan’s child welfare system, specifically in regard to sibling placement and visitation in foster care.

“There was a case where the husband killed his wife, then himself, leaving behind four children,” Jones recalls. “The state called my daughter and said, ‘Could you take two?’ She said, ‘Why would I want to separate brothers and sisters? I’ll put up bunk beds and we’ll take all of them.’ My daughter instinctively knew the importance of keeping siblings together if at all possible.”

While the Michigan Department of Human Services’s (DHS) current foster care policy outlines basic requirements for sibling placement and visitation, there is no statute requiring that child welfare agencies consider placing siblings together and no law requiring that courts consider sibling visitation or contact.

“One of a foster child’s greatest allies can be a sibling, but our research showed that some 75 percent of foster children are separated when placed into foster care,” says Andrew Bronstein, ’14, who worked on the sibling visitation proposal as a 3L. “We wrote this proposal to increase the likelihood that siblings would be placed together in foster care when it is appropriate and, when that’s not possible, that they should have the opportunity to visit one another when it is in the best interest of both children.”

Although the four bills introduced propose only modest changes to existing Michigan law, clinic students and stakeholders say a statute would ensure much-needed consistency across foster care and adoption practices and agencies in the state.

“If these bills pass into law, questions of sibling placement, parental visitation, and reinstatement of parental rights will be kept at the forefront,” Duquette says. “Judges and case workers will have to consider these questions. They won’t be swept away in a moment of emergency.”

It is this potential for positive change that made the experience all the more rewarding for clinic student Jillian Rothman, ’14.

“The journey has been incredible,” Rothman says. “In this case, it was the opportunity to witness how a problem becomes a fix—becomes a bill—becomes a law. We went from talking about the big-picture problems to sitting down with our groups and figuring out how to fix them with the words of law. We’ve created this momentum now, and I’m excited to watch it play out.”

McElwee also will keep a close eye on the progress of the bills. Although their passage will have little effect on him, their introduction has given the international relations major hope for his own policy work, which he intends to pursue following college graduation.

“There are a number of reasons why children end up in child welfare, but the majority of foster youth come from lower-income homes,” McElwee says. “What I want to do is work to restructure monetary policy in child welfare to ensure that there is an even playing field for everyone—not just in America, but all over the world.”

Valerie Bieberich, Ashley Sizemore-Smale, Jillian Rothman, Andrew Bronstein, Justin Hoag, Professor Don Duquette, Devon Holstad, Dorothy Brown, Sean Killeen, and Kimberly Waller of the Legislation Clinic pose at the Capitol in Lansing.

Valerie Bieberich, Ashley Sizemore-Smale, Jillian Rothman, Andrew Bronstein, Justin Hoag, Professor Don Duquette, Devon Holstad, Dorothy Brown, Sean Killeen, and Kimberly Waller of the Legislation Clinic pose at the Capitol in Lansing.

Michigan Senator Rick Jones, a Republican from west Michigan, introduced the following proposals, drafted by the Legislation Clinic, to the state Senate in June:

  • SB 0994
    To create a process to allow the reinstatement of terminated parental rights for legal orphans.
  • SB 0995
    To require under certain conditions that siblings be kept together in foster care placements.
  • SB 0996
    To provide that siblings be placed together in foster care or have sibling visitation or contact.
  • SB 0997
    To provide for regular and frequent parenting time for foster children.
    Track the bills at:
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