Writing competition wins keep pile up for UDM Students

The writing efforts of several University of Detroit Mercy students on legal topics ranging from limited liability corporations to health care law continue to receive top honors around the country. Three students recently won first prizes in writing contests while a fourth took the runner-up spot in another.

"We have a group of students who are motivated to succeed and are willing to put in the work that is required to succeed," said Prof. Karen Henning, who worked with the students and is director of the Writing for Publications Program.

The students recognized were:

* Brian Sweigman: Second Place; 2009 James E. Beckley Securities Arbitration and Law Writing Competition sponsored by The Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association.

* Eric Westenberg: Winner; 2009 George Hutchinson Writing Competition sponsored by the Federal Circuit Bar Association.

* Alanna O'Rourke: Winner; 2009 Bert W. Levit Essay Contest sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Lawyer's Professional Responsibility and Long & Levit LLP.

* Harold Gallick: Winner; 2008 Writing Competition sponsored by the Michigan Bar Association's Health Care Law Section.

Sweigman, a third-year J.D./LLB student from Toronto, wrote a position paper on how limited liability corporations are treated by U.S. law.

"LLCs are somewhat new," Sweigman said. "There is not a lot of case law on how they are treated. I wrote a position paper on how I think they should be treated."

He said the assistance and encouragement from Prof. Henning and Prof. Carol Clark were instrumental.

"They were extremely helpful. Professor Henning helped with the writing and Professor Clark helped with some substantive issues," said Sweigman, who spent several months working on the paper.

Gallick, a practicing cardiovascular surgeon for more than 20 years, won for his piece on the value of voluntary disclosure of medical errors as a way for community hospitals to improve quality assurance programs and patient safety without incurring financial or legal liability. He said it was an exhaustive process going from an idea to the finished work product -- with a big assist from Prof. Henning.

"I can't tell you how many revisions we went through before the final paper was submitted," Gallick said. "I can tell you I was gratified by the response to my paper and the invitation to attend the Health Care Bar Section's annual conference where I received my award -- even though I had to leave early to get to Health Law Class that night."

Henning said the effort to teach UDM students good writing techniques begins with the first-year writing course, but also extends beyond that to all classes that incorporate a writing assignment as part of the school's writing across the curriculum plan.

"We do have a terrific first-year writing program," she said. "But that program is supported by our writing across the curriculum requirements and by the willingness of our entire faculty to work with students to help them gain the substantive knowledge required to write these award-winning submissions."

O'Rourke said it was only after prodding from Henning that she decided to enter the Bert W. Levit Essay Contest, which she ultimately won with her essay on the implied waiver of attorney-client privilege. For her efforts, O'Rourke received a $5,000 cash prize and a free trip to Miami, Fla. She also has a better appreciation for legal malpractice and professional responsibility issues.

"I found the topic not only fascinating but also relevant to the future practice of law," said O'Rourke, an evening student from Grosse Pointe Park. "I was exposed to an area of law about which I had little experience or familiarity prior to the competition."

Gallick encouraged other students to get involved in future writing competitions. Not only is it gratifying to win, he said, but the process also makes for an educational experience that will enhance any student's legal education.

"A lot of work goes into writing and re-writing a paper of this type, but Professor Henning is an excellent source of guidance for anyone willing to commit to the process," Gallick said. "More than an award, the educational experience is highly worthwhile, and I strongly recommend it."

Published: Tue, Dec 8, 2009

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