Supreme Court clerkship gave law student a taste of judiciary

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Alexis Zerbst originally thought of a career in business—but in undergrad studies, and interning with criminal defense attorney Ian Kierpaul in Eastpointe for 3-1/2 years, she decided to incorporate political science and the legal field into her schooling. Enjoyment of high school government classes also played a role in her decision.

A high achiever, Zerbst started Early College of Macomb as a high school junior, obtaining an Associate of Business Administration degree from Macomb Community College a year out of high school. She graduated from University of Michigan-Dearborn in 2021 with a BBA with a major in human resources management and a BA with a major in political science.

Prior to working for Kierpaul, Zerbst had very little knowledge of the criminal legal system. 

“I started the job solely for the experience, knowledge, and money as a college student, however, it soon turned into me developing a passion for the work,” she says. “As I started experiencing injustices first-hand, I found myself fascinated by it and driven to spark change, which led me to pursue law school. 

“Mr. Kierpaul mentored me, challenged me with different tasks including writing appellate briefs and motions, and taught me many skills I would need to pursue a future in the legal field. I owe a lot of my writing and research skills to him.” 

She now is approaching the close of her 2L year at Wayne Law.

“The biggest thing that drew me to study law was seeing the impact I can make in the world and on so many different people,” she says. “I felt studying law was a way I could challenge myself, while also being able to truly enjoy my career. It was the only job I had in undergrad that I saw myself being able to do every day of my life and not get bored of it. 

“No two cases are the same and no two people are the same, and I feel I can put my talents to good use and make a positive impact on so many people through studying and understanding the law,” said Zerbst.

Zerbst is enjoying her experience at Wayne Law.

“I appreciate that you have so many amazing opportunities and the potential to be more than just a number,” she says. “It’s a great feeling when your professor knows who you are and actually cares about your legal success and we have that at Wayne.”

Her many legal interests include criminal defense, labor and employment law, and judgeship. 

“My main focus is to create change and help ‘the little guy,’ as my background is in criminal defense,” she says. “However, I took employment law this semester because it goes well with my background in human resources, and I’m really interested to continue pairing my skills together through being a summer associate at Clark Hill this summer in its Labor and Employment Group.”

Last summer’s clerkship for Michigan Supreme Court Justice Megan Cavanagh included evaluating applications for leave to appeal received by the court and advising the justice as whether this case should be denied, granted, or held for further consideration.

“It was eye opening to see how the highest court in our state works because so many of us have no idea,” Zerbst says. “I loved working on cases that I knew would get set for oral argument in the next term and potentially modify the law. Thank you, Justice Cavanagh, for giving me an amazing 1L summer experience and helping enhance my writing skills.” 

Zerbst has set her long-term career goal as sitting on a judicial bench. 

“Kierpaul gave me the great advice that if I wanted to make any significant changes, the judge route is the way to go,” she says. 

A member of the second group of Wayne students to participate in a Holistic Defense Externship— an interdisciplinary partnership between Wayne Law and the Wayne State School of Social Work—Zerbst externed with the Neighborhood Defender Service. She spoke on the record in court several times, including cross-examining a witness, conducting a plea hearing, and multiple sentencing hearings. 

“Ken Riggins was a great supervisor, and I’m so grateful for him teaching me so many great skills, allowing me to appear in court, and helping me reach my goals,” she says. “I’m also grateful for the professor of the externship, Dan Ellman, who did an amazing job bringing in real world examples and bringing our class to life.”

A member of Moot Court—and now serving as Chancellor—Zerbst found participation in hands-on activities was a welcomed break from the rigor of law school. 

“Moot Court forces you to argue both sides of a case, which allows you to see weaknesses in the case and be prepared to handle any opposition,” she says. “Prior to my externship and Moot Court, I was very nervous about oral advocacy, however, those two things were such a cool way to overcome those fears.”

A highlight was selection as designated brief writer for the William & Mary Spong Constitutional Law Moot Court competition in February.

“It was so was exciting to showcase my skills and write an entire brief with no assistance, outside of my oralists assisting in research and editing the final draft,” she says. “I felt incredibly proud. Also, we did get to travel to Williamsburg, Virginia, as a group, got to see another law school, and just have a fun weekend sort of removed from the crazy day to day of law school. Shout-out to my amazing teammates, 2L oralists Chloe Brueck and TK Khan and my coaches, Wayne alums, Dan Baker and Katelyn Maddock.” 

As the new Moot Court Chancellor, Zerbst looks forward to collaborating with faculty advisor, Amy Neville, who taught her for two legal writing courses and helped enhance Zerbst’s writing capabilities. 

“I plan to make sure junior members get the same amazing experience in Moot Court that I did,” Zerbst says. “This will entail raising awareness of Moot Court and what we do, having amazing senior coaches to mentor our junior members, sending as many teams to national competitions as we can, and having two successful in-person in-house competitions. With this I hope we can bring home some awards from competitions, and help our program as well as Wayne Law move up in the rankings.”

Zerbst is a first-generation college student and future lawyer.

“It’s been such a defining feature for me through my entire education, and I would love to inspire others like me—that you can do anything you set your mind to,” she says.

Zerbst’s fiancé Michael Behrendt has been a huge help throughout her legal career. 

“He’s been such a great support system for me by keeping me sane and helping me through all the rigors any law student endures,” she says. “I also owe a ton of thanks and appreciation to my parents, Norm and Vicky, and my siblings, Joe and Chris, because without them and their support, I would not be where I am today. They’ve been crucial in helping me get an academic scholarship, both for undergrad and law school.” 

In her leisure time, Zerbst finds working out, and taking walks, to be a great stress relief. 

“I can also be found baking some fun treats, especially layer cakes—which is my new favorite because I get to be creative and decorate them.” 

Originally from Eastpointe in Macomb County, Zerbst now makes her home in St. Clair Shores, where she enjoys exploring quaint little beaches on Lake St. Clair.

“Detroit has always been my home and I never want to leave,” she says. “I’m a big fan of being able to experience all four seasons, and the many different outdoor activities that come with that. 

“Detroit is also a great sports town, and I enjoy watching and attending games of all four professional teams, as well as the University of Michigan football team. Being at Wayne State allows me to be able to get out of class and be 10 minutes away from a sports game or any other entertainment happening downtown.”

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