Serving schools: Local attorney focuses practice on education law

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Education law attorney Kevin Sutton has seen a dramatic rise in matters dealing with social media and off-campus, online speech.

“Somehow, I remain surprised by the things smart students will say and do online, thinking no one will ever see it,” he says. “From threats of violence to inappropriate images, the implications are far-reaching and are arising on a daily basis. The courts continue to try and apply standards crafted long before Facebook and Twitter to assess this behavior and the potential First Amendment protections for same.”

Sutton is a partner at Lusk Albertson in downtown Detroit, an education law firm that exclusively serves public school districts and educational entities. His legal practice focuses chiefly on the defense of contested matters, including state and federal lawsuits filed against clients, as well as claims of discrimination submitted to administrative agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR), and U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR).

He regularly investigates allegations of employee/student harassment and conduct; and advises clients regarding their statutory obligations under Michigan’s Revised School Code, applicable special education laws, school-related statutes, and labor/employment issues.

He currently is involved in a federal case regarding transgender student rights and has given presentations around the state on the subject.

“It’s an extremely interesting topic as our society becomes increasingly aware of the challenges faced by the LGBTQ population and lawmakers grapple with how best address those needs,” he says.

Sutton enjoys the education law specialty.

“The people are wonderful – all of them are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of young people,” he says. “I truly believe that we, as legal counsel, are an extension of that. We do our part to clear the path of obstacles, challenges, and complexities so our clients can focus completely on their mission of critical importance – educating students.”

Sutton’s attraction to education law began back in his own school days when he thought being a lawyer was all about arguing with people.

“That had a lot of appeal to me,” he says with a smile. “As I got older, however, I learned it was really about helping people solve complex problems.  My greatest source of pride in this profession is helping clients navigate difficult situations, trying to reach the best outcome possible.”

When Sutton headed to Michigan State University for pursue his undergraduate degree, it was with law school in mind.

“For most people at MSU, that means enrollment in the James Madison College – but I wanted a more diverse undergraduate experience rooted in the social sciences,” he says. “Since I’d always been fascinated by politics and its machinations, a political science/pre-law major in the College of Social Science was a great fit for me.”

Sutton’s father referred to MSU as a “supermarket of opportunity” when he dropped his son off on campus. 

“He was 100 percent right – I had so many options academically, socially, from an extra-curricular standpoint,” Sutton says. “I loved that anything I wanted to do, anything I was interested in, I could do. Big Ten basketball and football games were pretty great too!”

He remains actively involved in the MSU Alumni Association, and is the immediate past president of the College of Social Science Alumni Association Board of Directors.

Sutton went on to earn his J.D. from the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, where he was a member of the Student Bar Association; CWRU Honor Court; and editor of The Docket.

He also has completed the International Association of Defense Counsel (IADC) Trial Academy at Stanford University, a program focused on the development of trial advocacy skills for defense litigators.

He has shared his expertise by teaching Education Law as an adjunct professor at Oakland University in Rochester.

“The students are bright, inquisitive, and have a totally different view of the law than I do,” he says. “Many students are fearful about a course in school law – they assume it will be a boring discourse on Law A, Law B, etc. While I want my students to be keenly aware of their legal obligations as educators and administrators, I love talking with them about the policy reasoning behind the applicable laws and discussing how these legal mandates impact them on the educational frontlines.”

Away from his law practice, Sutton continues his passion for helping students. He helped develop and implement the LAunch Scholarship – a $5,000 scholarship Lusk Albertson grants each year to high school seniors.

Sutton also volunteered as a Certified Life Skills and Career Readiness mentor with the nonprofit Winning Futures program at Warren Mott High School for four years, and served on the Board of Directors for two years, helping to raise more than $25,000 to help fund Winning Futures’ mentoring programs. In 2012, Sutton was honored by Winning Futures as its Mentor of the Year, and last July was recognized as a RARE Everyday Hero, along with seven other residents from across Michigan, for outstanding contributions to the community.

“Winning Futures is a fantastic organization with a great mission,” he says. “Our primary goal as mentors is to work with high school students to help them develop the skills necessary for successful goal-planning. Our key objective, working within the structure of the Winning Futures curriculum, is to assist each student in developing a five-year plan for success.”

In his leisure time, Sutton – who lives in his native Livonia with his wife, Lauren, a public school teacher; daughter, Kendall, 9; and son, Garrett, 6 – enjoys baseball, coaching youth baseball and hockey, biking, kayaking, and Spartan sports.

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