From dogs to underdogs


Longtime veterinarian turning to new career path in the law

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

 A long time practicing veterinarian, Valerie Dahlstrom has turned her sights to earning a law degree.

“I’m looking to make a change in my career,” she says. “I’ve always had an interest in law, secondary to veterinary medicine.   

“I have a strong interest in criminal defense work, but have found a desire to work with juvenile defendants. I’ve always had an interest in helping the little guy or the underdog. I think everyone deserves a fair shake and should be protected. Ultimately, I’d like to work toward making a better juvenile system.”   

Dahlstrom, who earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology, with a minor in chemistry, from Eastern Michigan University and her DVM degree from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, is enjoying her Detroit Mercy Law experience where she is in her final year.

“Professors are genuinely committed to student success and are very approachable,” she says.   

Twice named to the Dean’s List, Dahlstrom has earned book awards three times – for Civil Procedure I and II and for Criminal Law.

As president of the Criminal Law Society, she enjoys helping fellow students follow their aspirations, and opening the door to opportunities for them within the criminal law field. Last year was a “rebuilding” year for the organization with Dahlstrom taking over as president and Professor Anne Yantus serving as the group’s mentor.

“We’ve started bringing in speakers—including the Hon. Arthur Tarnow, a federal judge who discussed prisons of choice—with the plan of bringing in some recent grads working as prosecutors and defense attorneys to help guide students along their career paths,” she says.    

“We’re still working on community outreach, but I do anticipate having a book drive for the Wayne County Juvenile Facility and have a couple feelers out with defense attorneys.”

Dahlstrom also has thrown herself into other law school organizations, including the Hispanic Latino/a Law Student Association, Honors Council, and Student Animal Defense League Fund. She was a student volunteer for 1L orientation, a student note taker providing class notes to the office for students in need of additional assistance, and competed on the Moot Court Trial Team for two years, including the G. Mennen and Keenan Tournaments. In her 2L year, she was a teaching assistant for the Civil Procedure class.

Last year, she took a Law Firm Program divorce class with Judge Kathleen McCarthy at the Third Judicial Circuit Court, working on divorce and child custody cases. This year, she is participating in the law school’s Appellate Advocacy Clinic, teaming with Yantus, a former State Appellate Defender Office (SADO) attorney, on an appeal for an incarcerated defendant. In January, she will do an externship with Third Circuit Judge Kelly Ramsey.

Away from her studies, Dahlstrom is a big fan of college football—especially Michigan State. Working towards taking part in running, triathlons, and biking in all 50 states before her 50th birthday, she recently completed her 22nd state. She previously has been involved in fund-raising for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, and in two consecutive years took part in 100-mile bike marathons to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.   

Dahlstrom, who has a daughter studying physical therapy at Wayne State, and a son-in-law serving as a police officer in Livonia, remarried in March. She and her husband, Derrik, make their home in her native Livonia, with dogs Chaucer and Sophie, cats DaVinci and No Name, and an aquarium.

Dahlstrom enjoys being back in the greater Detroit area after living in Los Angeles, Chicago, Champaign and Louisville.

“I love how Detroit is changing,” she says. “When I was younger, my family would often be involved in local soup kitchens and it’s amazing to see how the city has changed so much.  I love going downtown with my husband, who grew up in Detroit, and trying new restaurants or walking along the riverfront.”