True to the CORE: Cooley professor honored with coveted award

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By Debra Talcott
Legal News   

Cooley Law School Professor Florise Neville-Ewell puts into action the many valuable life lessons she learned from her mother, a first grade teacher and single parent.

Only 3 years old when her father died, Neville-Ewell grew up hearing the stories of how her father, also an attorney, had worked to make a difference in his community.

“My father had been one of only a handful of African American attorneys in Chicago in the 1950s, a time when black lawyers struggled to earn a living for their families. Because of their passion to practice law, they often represented clients without getting paid. To support their families they also worked at the Post Office so they could have guaranteed income,” explains Neville-Ewell.  “Although I was too young to witness my dad’s experiences, I grew up knowing, through these stories, about his career and interest in providing service to the community.”

That legacy, along with her mother’s encouragement to not only achieve but to exceed her dreams, inspired Neville-Ewell’s own career of service. 

Her reputation for providing pro bono service aimed at educating the public on important legal issues has now earned her the prestigious Wade H. McCree Jr. Award for the Advancement of Social Justice. 

The award, presented during a special program at the Westin Book Cadillac in Detroit on March 1, is sponsored by the Federal Bar Association for the Eastern District of Michigan and honors individuals or organizations for significant contributions to the advancement of social justice in fighting poverty and discrimination and promoting economic and educational opportunity.

As the 2013 recipient, Neville-Ewell joins such notables as former Gov. William Milliken, U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Damon Keith, and former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer. 

All have received the award named for the former U.S. Court of Appeals Judge who served as Solicitor General during President Carter’s administration beginning in 1977.

Neville-Ewell can trace her passion for sharing her talents back to 1984, shortly after she graduated from law school.

While clerking for U.S. District Court Judge Julian A. Cook in Detroit, she produced and hosted an “Ask the Lawyer” program on cable television.

When she returned to her hometown of Chicago in 1986 to work as an associate at Sidley Austin LLP, she hosted a weekly talk radio program with a similar format.

“Then, in 1988 I returned to Detroit to marry the love of my life, Judge Edward Ewell Jr. and raise our family.,” she said. “While working at Honigman Miller and as general counsel for the Housing Commission and Chief of Contracts for the City of Detroit, I conducted educational sessions primarily for our church family.”

Her community outreach grew in the 1990s in response to a real estate scam that had victimized many Detroit families.

“When thousands of families on the eastside were defrauded in an extensive real estate scam, I realized that if just one of those families had had more information, scam artists would have been less successful.

“As a result, in conjunction with my practice, I started speaking at various venues, including for nonprofits and at events sponsored by local banks, AARP, the NAACP, and the State of Michigan.  I also used other media to gain access to the public by going on the radio and writing articles for The Michigan Chronicle in an attempt to thwart the disaster from ever happening again,” says Neville-Ewell.

To contribute to policy discussions on these issues, Neville-Ewell also wrote articles and provided comments, including those given an as a featured speaker at an Obama Administration Summit on mortgage fraud in 2010.

When she began teaching at Cooley’s Auburn Hills campus five years ago, Neville-Ewell continued to educate the public about real estate issues.  In 2010, her students motivated her to establish the Ten Commandments of Real Estate Law Society, calling the program 10CORE® LAW SOCIETY.

“As a result of tremendous support from the American Bar Association and other national bar associations, 10CORE® has grown. 10CORE® has also collaborated with the Detroit Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank, given the nexus between financial and legal literacy.  The ultimate goal is to have students in multiple law schools, along with volunteer real estate lawyers across the country, involved in helping people and nonprofit developers with real estate issues. I have narrowed the focus to real estate issues because the country’s real estate pandemic, like cancer, has metastasized and not only destroyed the American Dream of homeownership but our communities.”

As far as teaching goes, Neville-Ewell see it as “an exhilarating experience — one in which I use actual examples to help students understand core concepts.

“The best part of teaching at Cooley is the school’s recognition of the need to create what I call ‘citizen lawyers.’  We prepare our students to be practitioners, but we also nurture them to understand the importance of ethics, service, and professionalism,” she said. “In my view, this should be the new normal for lawyers, and I am honored to work for an institution that believes in this approach.”

The family legacy Neville-Ewell received from her father’s life of service is what continues to inspire this busy wife, mother, attorney, and professor to continue reaching out into her community long after others might be inclined to sit back and rest on their laurels.

“After 10CORE® received recognition globally, I recognized that our gifts as lawyers will become increasingly important,” she said. “Notwithstanding that epiphany, I also recognized how much more we must first do domestically.  Yet, I am so grateful that I’ve, hopefully, continued the race that my ancestors started and that Judge Keith and other Wade H. McCree Award recipients continue to run with dignity and perseverance.

“This is a tremendous honor that inspires me to move into the next gear along with the next generation of lawyers awaiting the baton.”

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