WSU winds up series on nontraditional law careers

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Jeff Aronoff, executive director of D:hive, talks about his experiences as Aisa Villarosa-Berg, cofounder of the 313 Project and Matt Clayson, director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center, look on.

Photo by Steve Thorpe

Some tools and skills a law education provides are transferable to other pursuits

By Steve Thorpe
Legal News

For at least three attorneys, the road to happiness didn’t necessarily lead to a traditional law career. Three Wayne Law alums recently shared their experiences founding Detroit-based nonprofits and discussed the role of their law backgrounds in their current work with students.

Students, faculty and guests attended the panel discussion on Wednesday, April 3, at the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at Wayne State Law School.

Aisa Villarosa-Berg, cofounder of the 313 Project, Matt Clayson, director of the Detroit Creative Corridor Center, and Jeff Aronoff, executive director of D:hive encouraged students to consider their law education as a tool to follow their dream.

“If you’re directed by your passion, that is really all you need,” Villarosa-Berg said.

Interim Wayne State Law School Dean Jocelyn Benson welcomed the audience and introduced the three panelists.

The presentation was the final installment of a three-part series that highlighted nontraditional law careers.

All three stressed that some of the tools a law education provides are directly transferable to other pursuits.

In her introduction, Benson talked about the thought processes that are taught as an integral part of a law curriculum.

“Law school is designed for you to learn how to solve problems,” she said. “Being a good lawyer often means being creative and being able to navigate through industry changes and determine how to make the best contribution you can.”

Clayson said that he believes law school made him much more versatile and able to adapt than other preparation might have.

“What I really enjoyed about a legal education was that it provided me the opportunity to be a jack of all trades,” he said. “I can go anywhere, develop a complex strategy fast, pitch it really well and advance something that needs to be advanced. The reason is that, when you’re at law school, that’s all you do. You’re in torts one day, then off to patent law the next day and then election law the next day. You learn that there’s a certain thought process you go through in all these different areas that’s the same.  It helps you be more efficient.”

He also found that law school was surprising effective in preparing to succeed at what is often the biggest headache for leaders of nonprofits … fundraising.

“I had to figure out how to raise money, which is always fun,” Clayson said. “But I found that drafting a grant proposal is very much like drafting a brief. If you’re organized, assemble the facts, analyze them and then show how your proposal will advance what you set forth, it works quite well.”

The networking with fellow students and faculty that takes place in law school was also mentioned by the panelists as a valuable tool to be taken from the experience.

“The ‘bridges’ that you build over the course of your career are ones that you tend to keep crossing back and forth,” Arononoff said. “If you start off practicing law and then go to something else, it’s never really a full departure. You’ll find that you stay connected to the previous stops every step of your career.”

“There’s a bridge and you keep coming back,” Villarosa-Berg agreed. “That’s also true for the connections you’re making right now in this law school. You never know where or when those synergies will come back.”

The panelists also agreed that, whatever direction their careers may go, it was reassuring to know they had a law degree to fall back on. That can allow you to take more chances.

“Your law degree is insurance,” Clayson said. “When you’re doing that balance, that ‘risk assessment’ thing, you can take that chance. If it doesn’t work out, I still have a marketable skill that I can fall back on. It’s not like you have an undergraduate degree in international relations and political theory — which I do — when it’s time to fall back. That made it easier to take that leap.”

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