'Renaissance Man' to lead clinic at Cooley Law School

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Special to the Legal News

Cooley Law School has hired long-time Washtenaw County lawyer and "Renaissance Man" Jason Eyster to head up its new clinic at the Ann Arbor campus.

Eyster joins Cooley after having served as director of Ave Maria Law School's immigrant rights clinic which was housed, prior to Ave's relocation to Naples, Florida, in the same facility Cooley now occupies.

In fact, Eyster returns to the same clinic space - feeling right at home.

Eyster has deep roots in the Ann Arbor community and has contributed much to the city's musical and international sectors. He first came to Ann Arbor more than 30 years ago.

A graduate of Fordham Law School (where he founded the Fordham International Law Journal) he was hired to run Ars Musica, an original instrument baroque orchestra.

He and wife, attorney Diana Newman, made their home in rural Lima Township where they have homeschooled their four children and live with their three dogs and a barnyard full of pet peacocks, geese, ducks, and chickens.

With the oldest two children at Princeton and Harvard, and the third named the American Birding Society's Young Birder of the Year, it seems that it has all worked out very well.

Although Eyster left Ann Arbor in the 1980s to serve as executive director of the Princeton-in-Asia Foundation, three years later he returned to the area as Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Business Program at the University of Michigan.

He held this position for 10 years also serving during this time as editor of the U of M Journal of Asian Business. Eyster then opened his own law practice on State Street, where he assisted researchers, musicians, and artists in immigration matters, while providing services to those seeking political asylum in the United States.

During this time, he was also serving as a part-time legal writing lecturer at Ave Maria Law School, and, in 2005, became director of the school's Asylum and Immigrant Rights Clinic. When Ave Maria moved to Florida, Eyster went with them, while his family remained here in the Ann Arbor area.

He was therefore grateful when Cooley offered him the opportunity to head up their new immigration clinic in the familiar space he once occupied enabling him to return to Michigan.

Cooley's new clinic is different from the one Eyster ran at Ave Maria and probably different from any other immigration clinic in the country as it seeks to provide civil advocacy to immigrants, in addition to providing immigration counsel.

It is common for immigrants, given their unfamiliarity with local laws and customs, to be taken advantage of, and it can be especially difficult for them to find qualified legal counsel.

In addition, immigrants face special challenges that are directly related to their status, requiring a cohesive legal strategy that takes into account both their immigrant status and their civil issues.

Cooley Law School officials selected the clinic in response to the suggestion of a focus group of legal community leaders who met at Cooley's Ann Arbor campus to discuss what type of clinic was most needed in the community.

"Although many ideas were discussed," said Associate Dean Joan Vestrand, head of Cooley's Ann Arbor campus, "a majority of the attendees all agreed that the most underserved group in the county was the indigent immigrant population, who have significant needs for representation in both immigration and civil matters."

The resulting Thomas M. Cooley Immigrant Civil Advocacy Clinic, located at 3475 Plymouth Avenue in Ann Arbor, will open in January 2012, helping local immigrants with immigration issues as well as civil issues such as family law and landlord-tenant cases.

Working under Eyster's leadership, second-and third-year Cooley students will gain hands-on client experience in all aspects of case counsel, while cultivating exceptional community outreach experience.

Eyster's experience in immigration law and his background in international affairs make him well-suited for this new position.

He has served as editor of the annual Immigration and Nationality Law Handbook for more then ten years and has published widely on the topics of immigration law and clinical teaching.

In addition to speaking several languages, including Indonesian and Japanese, he has worked throughout Asia and in South America, teaching in Iran and Japan, and, from 2008-2010, traveling five times to China to help establish Peking University 's new School of Transnational Law .

While international affairs are important to Eyster, he also has an abiding interest in music, from building musical instruments, to composing and performing on them.

He is proficient on a number of instruments, with a particular interest in ethnic instruments and has taken lessons on how to play the "erhu" while working in China, the "charango" while in Peru, and the "santir" while teaching in Iran.

While attending law school, Eyster studied music composition with Lawrence Widdoes at the Julliard School of Music and later received two grant awards from the Michigan Council for the Arts to study the physics of harp design and to create and present a multi-media performance of American poetry of the open road at the Kerrytown Concert House in Ann Arbor.

In addition, he composed and performed music for the award-winning PBS special, "Education Unbound" and traveled to South America three times as sound engineer and music composer for the film "Go South America."

Locally he composed music buttons for WUOM radio and several pieces that were choreographed by People Dancing.

In addition to composing and performing music, Eyster established Eyster Lyre Company as a vehicle for teaching his children practical skills.

This family-based enterprise has manufactured and sold more then one thousand lyres throughout the world, with happy customers in Abu Dhabi and New Zealand.

To make use of waste wood, Eyster designed a simple puzzle, which accompanies a book he wrote, called "The Slow Race," that is available in a number of toy stores around the country.

Dean Vestrand is excited about the addition of Jason Eyster to the faculty and to his role in establishing the new clinic.

"It's this holistic approach to education that will serve him well as he helps future attorneys advocate social justice issues on behalf of Washtenaw County's underserved populations," she said.

For more information about the Thomas M. Cooley Immigrant Rights and Civil Advocacy Clinic, contact Eyster at eysterj@cooley.edu.

For more information about this and other Cooley clinics, visit cooley.edu/clinics.

Published: Thu, Dec 8, 2011

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