Blog Entry 14

Posted by David Koelsch
David Koelsch
David C. Koelsch is an Associate Professor and Director of the Immigration Law C
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on Thursday, 20 October 2011
in Faculty Blogs

The best moments as a law professor are, in my opinion, unscripted.  They happen when a law student finally feels comfortable enough with the litigation process, the law and the witness to deviate from the carefully planned questions and litigation strategy to do what needs to be done to win a case.  One such moment happened last week in Immigration Court.  Over the past seven weeks, the student had rehearsed the direct examination several times with the witness and had written and rewritten the questions half a dozen times, as well as extensively researched the point of law at issue, and anticipated possible objections from the prosecutor and how to respond to them.   

The big day finally arrived and the witness froze on the third question (out of 152 planned questions).  The law student tried to ask the same question a slightly different way hoping to unfreeze the witness.  No luck -- it was like watching Jim Carey in Liar, Liar when he wants to lie but his lips can't form the words.  The witness truly had the "deer in the headlights" look on his face.  It could have been a disaster and tanked the client's chance of success.  But the law student persisted, projected calm to the witness and adopted a conversational tone with the witness, as if they were talking about the Tigers' chances this season or a favorite restaurant.  The judge was a little thrown by the lack of formality but she let it go because she could see the tension and nervousness fade from the witness as he slowly started to answer the questions.  Every time the law student sensed that the witness was going to freeze again, the law student adopted the same conversational tone until the tension passed.

Needless to say, I was very proud of the law student.  I asked the law student after the (successful) hearing where he learned how to do that and he said it came from watching My Cousin Vinny and Legally Blonde.  Now that's not to say that a couple of Hollywood features are a replacement for a rigorous legal education -- they are not -- but his comment shows that there is much we can learn about lawyering and human nature from life outside of the walls of a law school.  Movies and more formal experiences, such as externships, clerking, clinics and the Law Firm Program, are critical for law students to observe how their intellectual gifts can be put to use in the real world of lawyering.  That is one of the strengths of UDM graduates:  they know how to react to unforeseen situations with grace and skill, learned during their time at UDM.

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About the author

David Koelsch

David C. Koelsch is an Associate Professor and Director of the Immigration Law Clinic and the Asylum Law Clinic at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law. The Immigration Law Clinic represents immigrants on a variety of legal issues, including abandoned immigrant children and abused immigrant women. Professor Koelsch also teaches U.S. Immigration Law and a comparative U.S.-Canada Immigration Law course as well as a Seminar on Spirituality and the Law. Koelsch was named the 2009 Outstanding Immigration Law Professor by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.