Student worked for firm throughout law school, is hired after passing bar


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

It is hard to say that Maricella Rodriguez is leading a charmed life, because she has demonstrably put a lot of hard, smart work into achieving her dreams.

But it is safe to say that things are going pretty well for the young attorney, who worked full-time as a paralegal at Hackney Grover while attending Western Michigan University-Cooley Law School and then landed an attorney position at the growing firm after she passed the bar in May 2017.

Rodriguez has always worked in Hackney Grover’s Grandville office, but during her time there, the firm has expanded so it now has just under 40 attorneys in six offices: in Cascade and in downtown Grand Rapids on Grandville S.W.; in East Lansing;  in Traverse City; and in Troy, with a rapidly increasing number of lawyers now located there.

Originally intent on an education path leading to the police academy, Rodriguez went to Grand Valley State University because of its criminal justice program. But, she says, “I picked up my required legal studies minor and I really enjoyed that. So I had a change of career path.”

GVSU’s Ruth Stevens, Rodriguez says, was “a really great mentor.” Stevens helped the young lawyer-to-be find internships which ultimately led to her current position.

While still an undergraduate, Rodriguez interned starting at the Legal Assistance Center, and then — simultaneously with LAC for about eight months — at the Ottawa County Friend of the Court. Her job duties at the Friend of the Court consisted of facilitation coordination conferences and submitting temporary custody, parenting-time and support orders.

Following GVSU graduation, she worked the summer at Michigan Legal Specialists, P.C., the law firm of attorneys Steven E. Bratschie and Michelle Born-Fischer. There, she performed such administrative duties as billing, scheduling, and communicating with clients but also prepared legal documents under the attorneys’ supervision.

While at Michigan Legal Specialists, Rodriguez got a call from Hackney Grover. She had submitted her resume about a year earlier, and they were interested in hiring her. Initially assigned to the billing department, she became a paralegal in short order.

“It was quite a lucky catch for me,” she says. “I had already decided to go to law school, and it was really a great opportunity.” While still working full-time, Rodriguez was able to attend WMU-Cooley on the weekend, and her position there served as her law school externship.

Hackney Grover specializes in insurance defense, as well as medical malpractice and general liability defense, in addition to other commercial and corporate litigation.

Founding Partners Richard K. Grover and Randy Hackney have received multiple honors and accolades over the years, and both have won the Robert E. Dice Award, given in recognition of the most outstanding Michigan attorney in the defense of physicians in medical liability litigation.

Grover was formerly a partner at Cholette, Perkins & Buchanan; also a Cooley graduate, he received the school’s Alumni Distinguished Student Award.

Hackney spent the first 11 years of his career at Fraser, Trebilcock, Davis & Foster, followed by four years at Smith Haughey Rice & Roegge. He then worked as a Claims Legal Advisor for Physicians Mutual Insurance Corporation of America before forming his own firms and then joining with Grover.

Rodriguez says she enjoys the fast-paced environment and loves the people there. She is especially interested in the details of legal cases that pertain directly to her work in insurance defense, such as Covenant Medical Center v. State Farm, which as many know was a significant decision by the Michigan Supreme Court in May 2017.

The court ruled that, under the state’s No-Fault Law, a healthcare provider does not have a statutory cause of action against a no-fault insurer to recover personal protection insurance benefits for allowable expenses incurred by an insured. According to Rodriguez, there was some uncertainty about whether this would apply retroactively, but on Aug. 31, the Court of Appeals ruled that it should be.

A published opinion in W A Foote Memorial Hospital v. Michigan Assigned Claims Plan, says, “...judicial decisions of statutory interpretation must apply retroactively because retroactivity is the vehicle by which ‘the law’ remains ‘the law.’”

Rodriguez says she did a bit of work on Covenant, making fact changes to existing document templates.

She is gradually transitioning into court work, for which she feels she is ready due both to her years at the firm and her work at WMU-Cooley. “I  enjoyed my time at Cooley. The professors were great, always available, very helpful. The other students were very relatable because we were in the same situation; the whole environment was just really enjoyable,” she says.

Rodriguez says that there are also tentative plans to move her to the Troy office. That would be fine with the Saginaw native, though since moving to West Michigan to attend Grand Valley, she has come to like it very well and has formed ties. But she misses her family, and that would mean about an hour less on the road to see them.

She has remained very close to her parents — her father’s job is in the State of Michigan unemployment office, including helping translate for Spanish applicants, and her mother has long worked in Human Resources for Target stores — and her six siblings. Though she is the only one to become a lawyer, some attended graduate school and hold professional positions, including a sister who is a planner.

“I missed a lot of time going home to Saginaw during law school,” she says. “I had to stay here on the weekends to get the readings done.”