Cooley students raise funds for LAC in a most unusual way

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PHOTOS COURTESY OF COOLEY LAW SCHOOL

by Cynthia Price
Legal News

-Pity the poor State of Hastings.

It has absolutely no capacity to produce anything for export; its infertile soil cannot even grow chives. Employment hovers right around zero per cent. And the most it can offer in terms of scenic views is the masking tape at its borders.

The State of Hastings is imaginary, a teaching tool developed for his Civil Procedures class by Thomas M. Cooley Law School Professor Chris Hastings. It exists in a corner of the room in which he teaches about personal jurisdiction, and strives to make learning about such dry matters a little more fun for his students.

Hastings uses the state to teach about what he calls “the old chestnut,” Pennoyer v. Neff. Studying the 1878 civil procedure case is obligatory for most law students, and Hastings tries to liven it up by supplying visual interest in his taped-off state.

He also uses a loaf of bread and a toaster to illustrate subject matter jurisdiction, but that is a story for a different day.

During the time period the State of Hastings exists, it exists in the classroom even when Civil Procedures is not being taught. When students in Associate Professor Victoria Vuletich’s Professional Responsibility class saw the taped-off section, many who had taken Civil Procedures recognized it as the made-up state.

The class’s Personal and Professional Responsibility (PPR) Bar Association, Vuletich’s own teaching tool, is charged with setting standards of conduct for the class and setting sanctions for violating those conduct standards.

This particular class decided to incorporate the State of Hastings in its disciplinary process. Since an agreed-upon standard was that students should not pack up their stuff and get ready to leave while the instructor was still instructing, the PPR Bar chose as punishment to put the belongings of a person found to be in violation within the boundaries of the State of Hastings the week after the violation.

When petitioned, Professor/President Hastings was fine with that, but in the course of communicating so, he mentioned the woeful financial condition of his state and warned that he just might have to assert in rem jurisdiction and auction some of the items off.

The PPR Bar was shocked and felt badly for the State of Hastings. The students thought that it would be helpful to the state if they were allowed to purchase a $5 “pass” on some of the “Bar obligations” associated with the class, which revenue would be passed on to the State of Hastings.

Vuletich agreed to allow that, though she is quick to point out that this represented a departure from her normal policies. “In real life as a an attorney, you don’t get a pass from being prepared, but in this case I thought it was all right.”

Along the way, the State of Hastings became closely identified with the Legal Assistance Center. In the parallel universe of real life, Chris Hastings serves on the board of the LAC, the walk-in legal self-help center in the Kent County Courthouse, and believes strongly in its mission.

Since Hastings’ other passion is the Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL), it is reassuring to know that he is available to guide the LAC in that area. Hastings chaired the State Bar of Michigan UPL  Committee until recently, and is still an advisor that committee. Moreover, he  served on the State Bar’s Special Committee on Defining the Practice of Law, which submitted the results of its work to the State Supreme Court in September.

The LAC and all of its employees and volunteers have always been scrupulous about drawing the lines concerning its assistance.

So, when the students in the Personal Responsibility class suggested the donations as well as an end-of-term pizza party to give them to the LAC, Hastings responded in the affirmative.

“Your offer of aid, and a corresponding Summit and Feast is, of course, gratefully accepted,” he wrote. “I have been wasting away in the
State of Hastings, and the promise of pizza late in the term gives me courage to press on in my Presidential duties.”

Included in his response was an invitation to LAC Executive Director Deborah Hughes. Hastings also referred the class to a brief, clever video about the LAC, which can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_5B2_gbes9Y

On Nov. 30, students designated classmate Andrea Taylor, who also volunteers at the LAC, to give the $150 raised from pass purchases to Hughes. Vuletich says, “I don’t know whether all of the students bought the pass, but the vast majority did.”

Most of the students showed up for the pizza party, and reportedly everyone had a good time. About the Professional Responsibility class, Vuletich commented, “One reason it worked is that they were serious about their studies. A lot of students might’ve taken that opportunity to run with it and be silly, but they didn’t let it distract from their studies.”