Judges and attorneys talk about ethics and professionalism to WMU- Cooley students


Incoming students at WMU-Cooley Law School’s Grand Rapids campus participated in the school’s Honor Code Oath and Professionalism in Action program on Jan. 4. During the event, Kent County Circuit Court Judge-Elect and  former WMU-Cooley professor (and graduate) Curt Benson administered the law school’s honor code, which states, “ethics are as important as academic performance and the mastery of practical legal skills.”

Before administering the honor code, Benson shared the importance of forming relationships during law school, and how 10 years later you may help a former classmate or they may help you in your legal profession.

In addition, Benson encouraged law students to keep their minds open about areas of law they may wish to practice. He gave an example from his own life about how he never thought of insurance law during law school, but he found it fascinating in practice.

“Some areas seem perfect before you start law school, but quickly lose their allure, while other areas you may never have even considered may just really click for you,” said Benson.

During the Professionalism in Action program, attorneys Laureen Birdsall and James Sterken conducted a panel discussion on ethics.

In answering a question about an ethical dilemma they each experienced, Birdsall said, “Every day there is something that reminds you of your ethical obligations. You might not remember the specifics of the rule, but you will know them in your heart.  If a situation raises flags, then you have the tools to examine the specifics and proceed in accordance with the Rules of Professional Conduct.”

Sterken added, “I always try to outsmart my opposing counsel, but I never try to outsmart the system.  You work within the system to get the best possible outcome.”

Following the panel discussion, Judge G. Patrick Hillary, also from the Kent County Circuit Court, administered a Civility Oath to the incoming students. He introduced the Civility Oath by telling students that following the Rules of Professional Conduct was the baseline for keeping your bar card. He encouraged students to take the Civility Oath and follow it in order to rise above this baseline to become good attorneys that practice civility.


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