Attorneys, law students work together to give ex-offenders a second chance

In early August attorneys from Masco Corporation and students from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School finished another round in an ongoing project designed to give deserving ex-offenders a fresh start in life - while also providing valuable, hands-on experience to the students. The Thomas M. Cooley/DMBA Pro Bono Mentorship Program is a special project of the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association Foundation which brings volunteer attorneys together with second and third-year law students to assist once-convicted ex-offenders through the legal process of expunging, or deleting, their criminal convictions from the public record. All the cases originate from the STEP program operated through the Legal Aid and Defender Association. The Project is in its second year; as of August 2012 thirty-five Cooley students and thirty volunteer attorneys have assisted forty one-time offenders. During the most recent round of cases, students from Cooley's Ann Arbor campus were paired with attorney mentors from Masco Corporation. According to Kevin I. Green, senior corporate counsel-Plumbing Products for Masco Corporation and a member of the DMBA Foundation's Board of Trustees, the experience marks his office's return to pro-bono work after the 2008-2009 economic crisis. Green said that working on the project was an "enlightening and fulfilling" experience for himself and the twelve other Masco attorneys who participated, including nine staff members and three contractors. "Most of the attorneys who took part had never been involved with the criminal court process and in some cases had never been to court in their lives," Green explained, "so doing this was very enlightening. It was also very fulfilling because ... many of our clients were ex-offenders who had gone back to school - one of them had completed both a Bachelor's and a Master's degree - and most of them were employed, but they were trapped in their current positions because they couldn't afford to go through a background check. "Thanks to our work these clients can now pursue job promotions and other opportunities without fear that one mistake they made in the past will come back to haunt them." Two of the students who participated in the latest round of expungement cases, Sandra Reizen and John Toth, said that the project was definitely a good use of their time. Reizen, who lives in the Ann Arbor area, is a second year student who plans on working in criminal law on graduation. "In addition to being right on target with my career path, [the project] provided me with a real life chance to work with a client in need and present a case in front of a judge," she said. "I learned that not only do I like being able to help clients, but I really enjoy being in court." Toth, a second year student from Northville, cited the opportunity to " some legal work with real people" as his reason for applying to work with the project. "I learned that interacting with clients is as important, if not more, than anything I've learned in law school and that your client is putting an enormous amount of faith in your ability to perform," he said. Dennis Donahue, the Access to Justice Program administrator for the DMBA Foundation, called the latest round of cases "a solid success" and added that he was thrilled by the new partnership with Masco Corp. "The more students we can bring in, the better," he said, "particularly students from diverse areas. This gives them a look at what it's like to work with people who have a wide variety of life stories. They also have the opportunity to experience the operation of the Third Circuit Court, one of the most active criminal courts in the country. "We're also very pleased to be working with Masco again, and want to thank Kevin Green and the rest of the Masco legal staff for all of their hard work." Melissa Stowe-Lloyd, the assistant director of the Center for Ethics, Service, and Professionalism at Cooley's Ann Arbor campus, said that the Masco attorneys were, "...great role models for our students. They provided examples of how practicing attorneys can be involved in pro-bono opportunities and ... went above and beyond to communicate and work with the students on these cases." In addition to the Thomas M. Cooley Pro Bono Mentorship Program, the DMBA Foundation also supports a variety of community support programs including the Detroit Legal Services Clinic, which provides free legal assistance to people in need, and For The Seventh Generation, which matches donations of services and goods to needy foster children in the metro Detroit area. For additional information about the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association and its Foundation visit: or call 313-961-6120, ext. 206. Published: Wed, Sep 5, 2012