Profile in Brief ...


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Whether teaching the first year legal writing class or assisting upper level students in preparing articles for writing competitions and/or for publication, Karen McDonald Henning says that helping students to develop their writing skills is one of the most gratifying parts of her job as assistant professor of Legal Research, Writing and Analysis at UDM School of Law.

“So much of legal practice involves effective written communication,” says Henning, who developed a pilot program, Writing for Publications. “Working with students in their first year of law school to move from being novice legal writers to accomplished writers requires a great deal of time and attention to the needs of individual students.

“At the same time, this work allows me to develop relationships with my students, and being a part of the students’ development of this critical skill is immensely rewarding. It’s always exciting to help students succeed.”

Students at UDM have been quite successful in their participation in writing competitions, winning, among others, the competitions of the Federal Circuit Bar Association, the ABA’s Standing Committee on Lawyer’s Professional Responsibility, and the Michigan Health Care Section.

Henning, who teaches Applied Legal Theory and Analysis, Advanced Advocacy, Federal Jurisdiction and a Judicial Clerkship seminar, joined the UDM faculty in August 2009.

“I value UDM’s commitment to providing students with both the theoretical foundations and the practical skills necessary to excel at the practice of law — this dual commitment makes UDM an exciting place to teach,” she says.

“Students are enthusiastic about learning and mastering the skills necessary to practice law. They come from a variety of backgrounds and bring that diversity into the classroom. They understand they will have to work hard to succeed, and it’s always exciting to see what they’re able to accomplish.”

One of the best parts of her job is her time in the classroom and outside the classroom with students.

“The students’ questions challenge me to really think about the law and the responsibilities of lawyers to their clients, the legal system and to society as a whole. And, of course, it’s always exciting to see what former students are able to accomplish as they move on in law school and into practice. To play even a small role in a student’s success is an honor.”

Her work as coach of the UDM National Moot Court teams provides the opportunity to get to know students and to work with them closely on difficult legal issues, she says.

“Moot court gives students the opportunity to focus intensively on developing their analytical, persuasive, and communication skills. Assisting students in developing those skills and then watching them grow into impressive oral advocates is exciting.”

Henning, a native of upstate New York, earned a bachelor’s degree with honors in political science from Trinity College, Hartford, Conn. After graduation, she worked for a congressional task force on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where all her supervisors were lawyers.

“I not only realized that in order to advance, I would need a graduate degree, but I respected my supervisors’ ability to see all sides of the issues that we were working on. In addition, I’d always found legal and political issues very interesting.”

After earning her law degree, magna cum laude, from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she served as an Executive Editor of the Law Review and was a member of the Order of the Coif, she clerked for Judge Collins Seitz for the Third Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. She then joined the litigation department of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom in Washington, D.C., and subsequently served as an appellate attorney in the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia.

Henning enjoyed her time in the nation’s capital.

“It’s a beautiful city to live and work in — and, I was lucky enough to have great jobs. First, I had the opportunity to work at a large law firm and was fortunate enough to have several terrific attorneys mentor me and provide me with significant responsibilities on major cases. I loved the intellectual challenges of determining the best arguments to make on behalf of my clients and how to present those arguments in the most persuasive way possible.”

Henning then moved to the attorney general’s office for the District of Columbia, where she devoted herself to an appellate practice representing the District before the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and the D.C. Court of Appeals.

“I was able to work on a great variety of matters, employment law, constitutional law, civil rights issues, and it was a very challenging and interesting job.”

In her leisure time, Henning enjoys reading, playing bridge, spending time with family and friends, exercise, and yoga. She and her husband Peter and daughters Molly, Alexandra and Grace, live in Grosse Pointe, where Henning volunteered as a Girl Scout leader and at Alternatives for Girls in southwest Detroit, and was very involved with Grosse Pointe Public Schools.

“I was raised with the motto ‘to those whom much is given much is expected,’ and I’ve tried to live my life that way,” she says. “I certainly have been given much. And, so I tried to repay what the schools gave to my family by being actively involved — I served on several district wide committees, assisted in fundraising, all the usual things parents do to support their kids.”


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