Cross-Border Viewpoint: Dual degree alumna worked in Toronto and Detroit

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By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News
 
Christina Nassar set her sights on a legal career after a debate class in her freshman year of high school, and took a pre-law class in her junior year.

“I still remember the final project which entailed conducting a trial before my peers. I prepared demonstrative aids, opening and closing statements, and direct and cross examination questions for witnesses,” she says. “After completion of this course, my love for the law was set in stone. I had heard my calling.”  

She earned her undergrad degree, summa cum laude, from Wayne State University School of Business.

“Today’s industries’ demand analytical thinkers who understand the financial, entrepreneurial, and economic aspects of business while still providing the legal advice to drive their company forward,” she says. “Law walks hand-in-hand with every field as lawyers are asked to represent clients in diverse and domain specific situations. Studying business was a no-brainer as it helped me understand where my future clients were from and provide me more than the background but the know-how to help and advise them.”

Recognizing that the recession would create fierce competition for legal jobs, she chose the Canadian & American Dual J.D. Program at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and the University of Windsor Faculty of Law.

“I had to ensure I would do something that would not only distinguish me from my peers but would allow me to stand out,” she says.

An attorney with a dual J.D. is an asset for any company or firm, allowing it to broaden its clientele, she adds. “Michigan is a cross-border state – it’s not unusual for a company or firm to have matters that require counsel in either or both countries.”

According to Nassar, the dual program is unique in that it not only offers students the ability to practice in two countries but Detroit Mercy Law requires students to gain practical experience in clinical courses or a law firm program.

“Detroit Mercy recognizes what employers look for and attempts to prepare its students for the workforce while instilling a strong foundation to succeed,” she says.   

As a rising 2L, Nassar was lead attorney in an asylum case at the immigration law clinic.
 
“While it was a stressful experience, I consider the experience I gained priceless,” she says. “I successfully won a full-length bench trial under the direct supervision of my professor.”  

Nassar began her legal career at one of Canada’s top 10 insurance defense firms in Toronto, where her work included property matters, motor vehicle accidents, product liability cases, injury accidents, and construction matters. She conducted depositions three to four times a week, settlement conferences, pre-trials, mediations and argued a number of contested motions.

After joining Butzel Long last year, she has maintained her insurance defense practice and added automotive litigation and intellectual property and technology to the mix.

“Butzel Long has made my transition back to the U.S. seamless,” she says. “I immediately jumped in on a variety of cases, including theft of trade secrets, antitrust, and cyber security.” 

A lot of these areas overlap, with her automotive practice intertwining with her intellectual property and technology practice.

“With the development of connected vehicles, cybersecurity is critical. Vehicles are susceptible to being hacked,” she says. 

Nassar adds that the movement towards semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicle technology will raise questions as to how auto insurers will handle issues such as where liabilities lie and who bears responsibility when vehicles cause accidents.

“My background in insurance defense in conjunction with my knowledge in the automotive and technology space will assist with answering future questions regarding this issue,” she says.

Since joining Butzel Long, Nassar also has assisted with pro bono projects. She attended the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association (DMBA) pro bono clinic assisting low-income individuals with legal matters, and also has handled a civil rights matter involving a prisoner.

A member of the State Bar of Michigan, Ontario Bar, and Michigan state courts, American Bar Association, Ontario Bar Association, and Canadian Defense Lawyers Association, Nassar notes there are some noticeable procedural differences between the two countries, including services deadlines for motions and filing pleadings. 

“Even though motion practice is slightly different in both countries, the overall concept remains the same,” she explains. “In Canada, you require a Notice of Motion, Affidavit, supporting Factum and Brief of Authorities. In the U.S. you require a Motion and Brief attaching all case law relied upon. Thanks to the J.D. program, difficulty in practicing in the U.S. and Canada was limited to knowing how to correctly file the right paperwork and the formal traditions.”

One of the most noteworthy differences is the manner in which lawyers conduct themselves in court, Nassar notes. Before a judge, a Canadian lawyer wears a legal robe, comprising black, dark grey or dark grey striped trousers or skirt; black gown vest; black gown; and white shirt with stiff wing collar and white tabs.
Opponents cannot refer to “adversaries” or “opposing counsel”; during a motion or trial, opposing counsel is referenced as “my friend.” 

In the U.S., Nassar is referred to as “Esquire.”  In Canada, attorneys are barristers, who litigate cases in court; and solicitors, who are transactional attorneys.
Canadian law students must not only pass bar exams, they must work for 10 months as an articling student under a mentor and principle attorney, and complete a professional responsibility component by watching webinars and completing an assessment administered by the principle attorney.

“Upon completion of these three elements, an individual is called to the bar,” Nassar explains.

The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Nassar was born in Ann Arbor, raised in Canton, and currently makes her home in Plymouth. In her leisure time, she enjoys watching hockey and football, and playing tennis.

“I love the fall and winter months in Detroit because of the atmosphere created by the collegial sports and hockey scene,” she says.

She also enjoys events in Ann Arbor, especially Restaurant Week.

“Each year the number of participating restaurants increases in both Ann Arbor and Detroit. It’s a great chance to try new restaurants in the company of friends,” she says. “I also enjoy walking the art fair in Plymouth and Ann Arbor. It’s wonderful to see all of the local vendors and their products.” 

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