Student Spotlight: Life Detours

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– Photos courtesy of Julia Walczak

Law student returned to school after decade of work and travel

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Julia Walczak’s end goal was always to study law even if she made a few detours along her career path before arriving at Detroit Mercy Law.

She got her first taste of the practice of law during undergrad at Canada’s McMaster University, as an assistant to civil litigator John Kranjc in Hamilton, Ontario; and the first-hand experience solidified her dream of pursuing post-graduate studies in the legal field.

But first, she spent a few years teaching English as a foreign language in Seoul and Busan, South Korea.

“I feel very lucky to have been welcomed into Korea and to have had the chance to experience and be immersed in Korean culture. I had the pleasure of working with such bright and amazing children and am grateful for all the lifelong friendships I made during my time there. It was an experience I’ll never forget,” she says.

She finally achieved her dream of law school in 2018.

“While it was certainly difficult to return to studying after being out of school for such a long period of time, I’m so happy I was able to travel and experience all that I did before being accepted into UDM,” she says. “I think having both real-life work experience as well as overall life experience has helped me to maintain perspective while studying.”

Attending law school was the culmination of a goal she had from a young age, and she picked political science for her undergrad degree as a natural fit for her career plans.

“I’ve always been interested in international relations and comparative perspectives as well as the overall functioning of governments and laws,” she says.

Now in her 3L year, Walczak enjoys the sense of community that comes with studying at a smaller school.

“Administrators and professors are so accessible and you can really build relationships with them as well as with your classmates,” she says. “Walking through the halls everyone says hello to each other. It really feels like the school cares about you as a person.”

Granted a Dean’s Fellowship in the Single JD program, the Canadian native plans to eventually sit for the Ontario bar so she is able to handle cross-border matters and has the freedom to practice in either jurisdiction if she so chooses.

“Part of the reason why I plan to be licensed in both Ontario and Michigan is that it’s not so important to me where I am practicing, but that I find meaningful and challenging work that gives me a sense of purpose and opportunity to make a lasting positive impact in my client’s lives,” she says.

Prior to law school, Walczak worked at a family law firm.

“I found the matters to be very interesting and to have a strong personal and human element to them,” she says. “However, every year I’m learning about different areas of practice and am keeping my options open, but leaning towards litigation. I really enjoy being in court and am looking forward to strengthening my advocacy skills this coming year as a Junior Member of UDM’s Moot Court Board of Advocates.”

Walczak is very proud to be a Detroit Mercy Fellow.

“In my undergraduate studies, I was working multiple jobs and wasn’t able to get involved in organizations and volunteering,” she says. “I appreciate the Fellows’ focus on service and have enjoyed becoming involved in the Detroit community, particularly volunteering with the expungement clinic at Greening of Detroit.”

In her 1L year, Walczak was a recipient of the Book Award for Applied Legal Theory and Analysis.

“After having a difficult first semester of transitioning back to studies, receiving the book award was an affirmation that this was the right path for me,” she says. “I found I really enjoyed legal research and writing, and that class helped to strengthen my advocacy skills.”

This year, Walczak is a junior member of Law Review.

“I’m looking forward to choosing a topic I’m passionate about and becoming an expert on it over the next year, of course with the hope my note will be published.”

Walczak has enjoyed being on the Women’s Law Caucus since her 1L year.

“It’s been such an honor to be a part of an organization that works to uplift womxn in our school and the community,” she says. “Serving on the E-board last year as secretary was a particular honor and I’m very proud of all we accomplished. We were recently awarded the inaugural Law Student Association Award from the National Conference of Women’s Bar Associations for our Menstrual Hygiene Drive in which we collected sanitary products and monetary donations to help end period poverty in the Metro Detroit area.

“This year I’ll be acting as Wayne Liaison to the Women Lawyers Association of Michigan and am looking forward to working with the incredible women in the Wayne legal community as well as finding ways for students to become more involved with the organization.”

Walczak is currently clerking in Southfield for criminal defense attorney Charles Longstreet II at Longstreet Law PLLC, and civil litigation lawyer Allen Venable at Venable Law PLLC.

“It’s been a great experience being exposed to new areas of practice as well as new styles of practicing,” she says. “Being a law clerk for sole practitioners has allowed me to be very hands-on. Not only have I been researching and writing memos, but I’ve also had opportunities to draft motions, sit second chair to Mr.
Longstreet on a Walker hearing and assist him with jury selection.”

Last year, Walczak interned at the 35th District Court in Plymouth for Hon. Mike Gerou, who also serves as the Sobriety Court judge.

“Working for Judge Gerou was an amazing experience—he’s a very compassionate judge and was great to learn from,” she says. “I was able to observe the different roles within a courthouse and get a better idea of how the American judicial system functions from start to finish.

“I also had the pleasure of sitting in on a specialty court for drug and alcohol-related offenses where defendants have the option in lieu of traditional sentencing to commit to a rehabilitation program facilitated by the court.”

Walczak also has participated in an experiential learning clinic with Greening of Detroit, expunging criminal records.

“It was great to see the real-world impact the practice of law can have and how providing access to justice is crucial in building a stronger community,” she says.
In her final year, she is looking forward to volunteering and getting more involved.

“Detroit Mercy’s commitment to service is one of my favorite things about being a student here,” she says.

For the past few months, Walczak has met the challenges of online classes, and appreciated the efforts of the professors and administrators to make the transition as smooth as possible.

“It certainly is not an ideal situation for anyone involved, but as I’ve come to learn from traveling and working, the best-laid plans do often go awry. It’s important to be patient, understanding, and to adapt to changing and challenging circumstances.”

Her biggest coping mechanism has been creating and maintaining a consistent routine.

“Scheduling set times for studying, work, exercise—and of course, some fun—has been so important in maintaining a sense of normalcy during these stressful times,” she says. “Being able to FaceTime friends and family has also helped keep me sane, especially seeing my two little nephews as much as possible.”

A resident of Windsor, Walczak says Detroit reminds her of her hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, in that they are both experiencing a period of rejuvenation.

“It’s exciting to be here amidst the rebirth of this amazing city and experience all the historic venues and sights, as well as the developing attractions that Detroit has to offer,” she says.

In her leisure time, she is an avid reader of both non-fiction and fiction, recently toggling between “Becoming” for WLAM’s Book Club and “The Watchmen.” Passionate about travel, to date she has visited seven countries—and looks forward to checking more destinations off her list after graduating.

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