Washtenaw County Inn of Court wraps up 'amazing' first year

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By Jo Mathis

Legal News

A month after Joan Vestrand became associate dean of the new Ann Arbor campus of Cooley Law School, she started talking to local law professionals about starting a Washtenaw County Inn of Court.

The common response?

"What's that?"

"It took about a year of talking, explaining and educating, and then they were fully on board," said Vestrand, who for years had been a member of the Oakland County Inn of Court .

An American Inn of Court is a group of judges, lawyers, and law students who meet monthly to discuss skills, professionalism and ethics of the bench and bar. There are about 350 Inns of Court chapters across the country.

At a year-end reception held April 10 at her Northville home, Vestrand said she was delighted that the Washtenaw County Bar took a chance on the program, and that so many judges signed on.

"I never expected that all 14 judges of the Washtenaw County judiciary would unanimously participate in this new Inn chapter," she said.

The 60-member Washtenaw County Inn of Court is divided into teams that conduct a particular program to the other teams in an hour-long presentation held once a month.

Each team consists of two or three judges, along with masters (lawyers with 18 or more years of experience), barristers and associates (lawyers with varying years of practice), and law students.

The first program dealt with starting a case - interviewing the client, and progressing from there. Another team focused on discovery techniques, while another handled mediation and alternative dispute resolution.

The last program dealt exclusively with ethics, which is at the heart of the program.

"One of the most amazing things about the Inn is the networking opportunities for young lawyers who get placed on a team and work very closely with lawyers and judges they didn't know before," said Vestrand.

Cooley Law student Lisa Parker called her year with the Inn of Court an experience she couldn't get elsewhere.

"From a student's perspective, it was a phenomenal opportunity to get to know lawyers in the local community and to get exposure to the real world," she said. "And it was a privilege to meet all the judges. It would take a long time to meet them in any other situation."

Attorney Tara Mahoney said she joined the Inn because her practice is based both in Detroit and Ann Arbor, and she needed more connections here.

"It turned out to be exactly what I had hoped for," she said. "It's a great group of people who dedicated themselves to putting on great presentations, and beyond that, also went to the social hour to get to know people on a different level."

The Washtenaw County Inn of Court will resume in September and run through April.. Vestrand's goal is for the Washtenaw County Inn of Court to reach the size of Oakland County's Inn of up to 100 participants, with a waiting list.

Washtenaw County District Court Judge Cedric Simpson said he signed up - and will be back next year - because of the camaraderie.

"I did it because you get to meet and work with people on projects who normally I don't get to see during the day, especially being a judge," said Simpson. "So working with attorneys was great. And then incorporating the law students made it even more fantastic because everything was amazing to them, including certain things we just take for granted."

Published: Mon, Apr 16, 2012

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