Advocate for service Professor instills value, importance of pro bono work

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Peggy Costello is a firm believer in the maxim, "service is the rent we pay for living."

As such she is a strong advocate for pro bono services -- and has contributed thousands of hours to pro bono work.

"We're in a unique position to provide legal services to those who cannot afford them. That population has grown exponentially in our current economy," says Costello, an assistant clinical professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

It's not only an ethical obligation; pro bono work helps lawyers gain experience at an early level, or in fields where they might not otherwise have opportunities.

"It also can be fun, and very rewarding, as pro bono clients tend to be extremely grateful," she says. "The legal services we provide can be life changing for the client."

During 20 years at Dykema Gossett in Detroit, as the member in charge of pro bono services, and later as chair of the Pro Bono Committee, Costello helped build the strongest large law firm pro bono program in Michigan.

"I'm extremely proud of that legacy," she says. "I want to instill the value and importance of pro bono work into the law students."

The UDM Veterans Law Clinic she helped launch in 2007 with Professor Joon Sung is an ideal vehicle for doing so.

"Teaching there is different from purely academic teaching," she says. "Essentially, we operate the equivalent of a legal services program, or law office, while teaching and supervising students."

Students get an intensive, unique experience handling cases under supervision, and also go out with the Mobile Law Office.

"They meet clients ranging from World War II veterans to those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan -- who may be younger than the student -- and hear many compelling stories," Costello says.

Costello, who previously was a psychologist, phased out her practice at Dykema in 2009 to devote herself full time to teaching. She began teaching law school a year after earning her J.D. from the Detroit College of Law.

"I believe it's important for students to have the perspective of a practitioner -- one who actually is, or recently has been, in the trenches," she says.

"I've always enjoyed teaching and mentoring law students. I remember how excited I was about being a law student -- even though it was a second career for me -- and how grateful I was when law professors, judges or practicing attorneys took the time to take a personal interest, and guide and advise me. Most mentors remained my friends, and some became colleagues. I like to think I perform a similar role for my students."

Costello taught at Detroit College of Law, until DCL affiliated with Michigan State University resulting in a long commute to East Lansing.

She joined the UDM faculty in 2007, where her courses include International Arbitration, an area of expertise she developed during her time at Dykema. She litigated cases, usually pro bono, under the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, involving one parent taking a child outside the country of origin to the United States, without permission of the other parent, and contrary to law.

"I generally represented the 'left behind' parent in the other country, and advocated for return of the child, so custody matters could be addressed under the appropriate law," she says.

She also argued an expropriation case before the U.S./Iran Claims Tribunal in The Hague, resulting in a significant award for her client. She presented cases before the International Court of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce and the Albanian Claims Commission.

Costello is a member of the Board of Commissioners of the State Bar of Michigan, a former member of the SBM Representative Assembly, and a member of the American Bar Association, National Association of Women Lawyers, Federal Bar Association, Women Lawyers Association of Michigan, Wolverine Bar Association and Board of Directors of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association Foundation. She is a past president of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association and WLAM.

"I believe organized bar associations are very important as resources for lawyers, as well as for setting policy and direction for the legal profession -- and I like associating and socializing with other lawyers," she says.

Published: Mon, Aug 23, 2010