Professor heads Estate Planning Clinic


By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

Cooley Professor Dustin Foster once trod where his students now tread.

"I was thankful for the practical preparation I received as a law student at Cooley--when I graduated, I truly believed I was best prepared for both the bar exam and the practice of law," he says.

The ultimate test came after graduation, when Foster got his legal feet wet with a resounding splash in a job with Berrien County Legal Services. In his first week, he was told that on Friday he would have numerous clients he would be assisting in court with landlord-tenant matters.

"I'd never handled a landlord tenant matter before, but I'd been in court, during my clinical experience with the Sixty-Plus Elder Law Clinic at Cooley Law School and learned how to prep a case. I spent the next few days learning everything I could about landlord tenant law and on Friday handled the cases. Yes, I was nervous, but because of the preparation I received at Cooley, I was confident I could handle the cases."

Now as a Cooley professor teaching Wills, Estates & Trusts and as Director of the Estate Planning Clinic on the Auburn Hills campus, Foster passes along that same in-depth practical preparation to his students.

"What I enjoy most is being in the position to not only see the student make the transformation from student to attorney, but to assist each student with that transformation," he says. "Being able to observe the joy in the students when they realize that all the time they have spent in the class room has truly prepared them for the practice of law is a very rewarding sight."

There are many challenges for attorneys in this field, Foster says, adding that his favorite part of this niche is the contact with clients. Attorneys must stay up to date on the laws that affect estate planning, such as Medicaid, tax laws, cases and statutes; be detail oriented; and most of all, be personable.

"Estate planning is all about trust," he says. "Typically, individuals are seeking estate planning services because some life-altering event has occurred, and you're discussing topics with clients ranging from death and disability to transferring wealth."

Foster joined the fulltime faculty at Cooley in 2008 after serving as an Adjunct Professor. Prior to joining Cooley, he spent 10 years in private practice at Bernick, Omer, Radner, & Ouellette in Lansing.

"I must admit that I was very lucky, I truly enjoyed the attorneys and staff that I had the privilege to work with every day," he says. "They all made going to work enjoyable. The attorneys at the firm emphasized family and education. Outside of the firm, the thing I miss most about private practice is the constant contact with clients, especially my senior clients and spending time in a court setting."

Foster, who also served as Of Counsel with Worman, Dixon, & Manis in Lansing, spent his time between graduation and receiving results from the bar exam working for Berrien County Legal Services as a student attorney authorized to practice under Michigan Court Rule 8.120.

"What I enjoyed most was that when I concluded each day, I knew that I helped someone, that would not otherwise have received legal services," he says. "I always felt I was making a difference is someone's life."

The Massachusetts native, who is married with two children, earned a bachelor's degree in political science with a minor in English from LaSalle University before earning his law degree from Cooley.

"The study of law was a lifetime ambition," he says. "It was something I've always wanted to do from a young age."

Published: Fri, Jan 6, 2012