Law students gain experience through pro bono program

Twenty-seven Wayne State University Law School students gained legal experience and served their communities through the Wayne Law Pro Bono Program and its partnership with the Michigan Unemployment Insurance Project (MiUI) in 2010-11.

MiUI provides free unemployment insurance advocacy for displaced workers and their families in eight Michigan counties including Genesee, Jackson, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, Saginaw, Washtenaw and Wayne. The project and its more than 90 law student volunteers from across Michigan have assisted approximately 285 jobless workers since opening its doors in Ann Arbor in January 2010 and Detroit in September 2010.

As part of their involvement, Wayne Law students attended administrative hearings before administrative law judges and local courts, provided advice regarding the unemployment insurance claims process and advocated on behalf of their clients. On average, they volunteered five hours per week working in teams of two on two cases at a time.

According to Detroit area students Damian Gyorkos and Anthony Kaled, MiUI has sharpened their skills as future attorneys.

"MiUI has given me a well-rounded look at public interest and governmental agency law," said Gyorkos, who will continue his involvement with MiUI through a 2011 summer internship. "Taking a case from beginning to end is satisfying -- especially when you have helped someone that normally would not have an outlet for such progress. While it is not a guaranteed win in any shape or form, the chance to help and provide guidance will stay with me throughout my legal career."

Added Kaled, "This experience has given me a taste of the contours and challenges administrative law holds for young lawyers. The interaction with clients and everyday people caught up in the web of bureaucratic tape highlights the value of skill sets law students obtain through school and internships."

Public Interest Law Fellowship recipient Matthew Clark will work for MiUI this summer as well.

"Working for MiUI is a great way to get hands-on experience arguing a case in front of a judge," Clark said. "For many workers who have lost their jobs in Michigan, unemployment insurance is the last safeguard keeping them out of poverty. Without a doubt, legal representation greatly increases a worker's chance of success, and I am glad to be a part of this great project."

Diane H. Fears, Wayne Law director of Career Services and Pro Bono Program coordinator, is excited about the new partnership and the opportunity for future programmatic growth.

"One of my principal duties is linking Wayne Law students with meaningful, quality opportunities to provide legal assistance to underserved members of our community," said Fears, who also serves as an MiUI board member. "MiUI is the perfect example. With the supervision and assistance of passionate, skilled attorneys, our students provide legal advice and representation to Michiganders navigating the unemployment compensation system. In the process, our students develop and refine valuable client interaction, research and writing, and oral advocacy skills while experiencing the tremendous personal satisfaction of helping others."

Amy Tilchen serves as supervising attorney in MiUI's Detroit office. According to Tilchen, who also started a legal clinic at the Detroit Rescue Mission in the Cass Corridor, Wayne Law students represented the bulk of MiUI's volunteer base this past term.

"Wayne Law students represented more than half of our volunteers this term," she said. "I continue to be impressed with the caliber of the student volunteers and have really enjoyed working with them. Through their efforts and the rest of the MiUI students, we've been able to recover an estimated $1 million in emergency replacement income for hurting Michigan workers. Wayne Law students are making a big difference for Detroit area jobless workers, their families and their communities."

MiUI is funded by grants from the C.S. Mott, Kresge and W.K. Kellogg foundations.

For more information, email, call (313) 833-1811 or visit

Published: Fri, Jun 10, 2011