Warner Norcross adds five new attorneys



by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Five new faces are popping up in the halls of Warner Norcross and Judd offices, faces of associates eager to contribute to the firm and to the world.

DeAndre’ Harris, Warda Ashraf Kalim, Randy Richter, and Clint W. Westbrook will all practice out of the Grand Rapids office, while John C. Muhs will work in Southfield.

The background of each new associate is distinctive, but they all have a grounding in internships and/or service work experiences.

DeAndre’ Harris is a native of nearby Muskegon Heights, and made his way to Kalamazoo to receive a bachelor of arts degree from Western Michigan in political science and criminal justice.

“Going in, I was pretty set on criminal justice. I didn’t think I wanted to be an attorney,” Harris says. “I really wanted to do public interest work.”

That led to an internship while at Western in the office of Rep. Sean McCann, from the Kalamazoo area.  But it was the internship he held after his senior year, with Judge Alexander Lipsey of the 9th Circuit Court, that convinced him of how “influential” attorneys could be in public affairs. He decided to attend Michigan State University College of Law, and wound up graduating magna cum laude.

After being a summer associate for Warner in 2014, Harris wanted to see the nonprofit side of the law, so he worked for the Michigan Education Association. “I enjoyed it, but I think in terms of the work culture, the atmosphere, I absolutely enjoy Warner,” says Harris.

 “I’m still very much undecided about what practice I’m interested in. I think I’d like to do some litigation early on in my career just so I can better advise my future clients,” he adds.

Warda Ashraf Kalim hails from the opposite end of the globe: New South Wales, Australia — which, she says, is “where most of the population of Australia lives.”

After receiving double bachelor’s degrees in laws and commerce and a graduate diploma in legal practice from University of Wollongong, Kalim worked for a couple of law firms in New South Wales, the first as an intern.

But on a vacation to the United States, everything changed. “I was  interested in pursuing my LLM and got offered a scholarship, an excellent opportunity for me,” she explains. “I also met my husband here at the same time, so it actually worked out very well.”

The time obtaining her LLM degree at Michigan State University College of Law was time well-spent. She won many awards and felt she received an excellent education that prepared her to practice in the U.S.

It also landed her a position with CAIR-Michigan. The Council on American-Islamic Relations is a national organization with offices in many states.

“CAIR is a civil rights organization; we worked closely with the ACLU and with other faith groups, including Jewish and Christian, on preventing discrimination. In my capacity as a trainer, I would meet with a lot of government departments, police departments, and hospitals to help them implement friendly policies, teaming up with other faith groups as well. I was also a Safe Spaces Coordinator, and my primary role was to proactively produce and help implement legal policies and best practices in various settings,” Kalim says.

But she was ready for a change. She says, “My husband’s a physician and he had completed his residency and fellowship on the east side of the state. We wanted to live somewhere that would be a great place to raise a family – when we visited West Michigan, we loved it, especially Grand Rapids. The Warner atmosphere was fantastic, and everybody here is incredibly welcoming.”

She says she is currently most interested in labor and employment law, but her final choice remains to be seen.

John C. Muhs is drawn to transactional work with corporations, and he says that, though he’s worked on a variety of cases as do all Warner Norcross’s incoming associates, he is grateful that he has already had a chance to do some hands-on work in the area.

“A lot of my law school classmates ended up at huge firms, and I considered that, but I’m not sure I?would be getting this experience at another firm. I’m really happy with my choice of Warner and their choice of me. Warner hires associate with the intent that you’ll stay and make partner, so it’s a different kind of business model, a different atmosphere, much more congenial, ” he says.

Muhs received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics and ancient and medieval history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School, cum laude.

He followed that up with a judicial internship with Hon. Laurie Michelson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan — whom he calls “brilliant” — and a legal research assistant position at the Mobility Transformation Center in Ann Arbor, where he analyzed legal issues related to autonomous and connected vehicles.

“My torts professor mentioned that these driverless car people had reached out to him, and I immediately thought, hey, that would be really interesting. I kind of strong-armed him into letting me be his research assistant,” Muhs says with a laugh. “It’s been a great opportunity. I’ve already blogged about it for the firm,” he adds.

Ryan Richter, originally from Belleville in Wayne County, attended Hope College where he majored in both exercise science and political science, and graduated magna cum laude.

“I think the turning point—when I decided that I wanted to be a lawyer—was my sophomore year at Hope College. I took a class in the Political Science department with Prof. David Ryden called “The Practice of Law and Legal Advocacy” that helped me consider whether I could see myself practicing law. Ryden provided a realistic overview of the profession (the highs, lows, etc.).  It fascinated me, [and] I decided to pursue a career as an attorney.  However, I decided to pursue an exercise science major because the complexity of the human body intrigued me and I wanted to be exposed to as broad of an education as possible.” Richter says.

He went on to graduate from Wayne State University Law School, also magna cum laude, where he was Order of the Coif and  managing editor for Wayne Law Review. During law school, he held internships with Judge Helene N. White of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the Hon. Robert H. Cleland, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan.

He also was a summer associate at  Warner. “I really enjoyed the people that I worked with at Warner—the people, attorneys and staff, are intelligent, helpful, kind, and fun,” he comments.

Clint W. Westbrook’s impressive credentials include graduating summa cum laude from Michigan State University College of Law, where he was an associate editor for Michigan State Law Review, and magna cum laude from Hillsdale College with a degree in philosophy, politics and French.

After undergrad, Westbrook went to teach English in France. “I took French starting in seventh grade because  my brother took Spanish,” he jokes.  He even proposed to his wife while standing under the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
In addition to service projects in Tajikistan, Kenya and Guatemala, Westbrook interned with International Justice Mission — a human trafficking organization whose CEO, Gary Haugen, will be speaking at Calvin College’s January Series on Jan. 11. “It was incredible,” he says. “IJM  combines professionalism with a dedication to their global mission.  Every day everybody gets together for an update and to pray for the work. I did some tax compliance and website compliance issues, but I never felt very far removed form what was going on across the world,” he says.

A Wisconsin native, Westbrook was hooked on the area after his summer internship with Warner Norcross. “My wife and I both knew that this was where we wanted to be – big city benefits with a small town feel,” he says, adding,  “I?just knew that Warner was the place for me. I’m very excited to develop my practice in Grand Rapids. Even after being here for just a little while, I’ve seen the way lawyers work together, and the way judges and lawyers maintain very professional but very friendly relationships.”