From Comedy Writing to Legal Writing, Sean Myers Brings a Unique Background to UC Law
Wherever Sean Myers ’14 may end up living after law school, one thing is certain: anywhere he goes he can make people laugh. While the rising 3L has fine-tuned his legal writing skills in his first two years at the College of Law, he came to Cincinnati with a very different writing background: comedy writing.
Myers graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2010, where he majored in English, minored in philosophy, and first got his feet wet in comedy. In his first semester of undergrad, he tried out for UNH’s improv team and “did awful,” he said. Myers said he realized he was not as talented at making jokes on the spot, but was better after the fact.
“That led me into sketch comedy,” he said. “It’s improv, but it’s pre-scripted. Those thoughts you have afterwards, you can just write into the script because you’ve still got it.”
Thus, Myers created a sketch comedy group that first semester, although it took about a year before they hosted the first of their many shows. After two years on the UNH campus, Myers said he pushed the group to be more active and get out and perform more in the community, but the others were not as interested. So they split ways – “creative differences” they called it. As a senior, Myers helped develop another sketch group with members of the community, with whom he held writing meetings over Skype.
After graduating from UNH, Myers tried standup comedy again, but he found his niche to be in news satire – “like The Onion, but obviously not as good,” he said.
In the year-plus off between his 2010 graduation and beginning class at the College of Law in August 2011, Myers wrote for two news satire websites. The first, Uncyclopedia – a Wikipedia parody of sorts – was a good fit for him, as he could publish content himself.
“It was very good to hone my voice for news satire because it definitely takes a specific journalistic voice,” Myers said. “Apparently I was very good. I won some awards on the site.”
After several months, Myers moved to GlossyNews.com, which Myers called a bit of a “step up,” joking the site had 12 more viewers than Uncyclopedia. Myers said he still writes for Glossy News when he has time, although school kept him busy enough this year that he has not been able to write in a while.
From Home School to Law School
Myers is a native of Southington, Conn., a central Connecticut town about 20 miles from the capital city, Hartford. He is the middle of three brothers, and he was home schooled through high school. He credits his experience always being at home and the overall family dynamics as an inspiration for his comedy.
He finally got the chance to get out on his own and eventually got into comedy as an undergrad, but he made his biggest move in 2011 when he came out to Cincinnati to begin his next phase of education.
“I came out of undergrad right when nothing was out there, and with an English degree, you really can’t do (much),” said Myers, who after his first wave of job applications fell short, decided to return to school.
Myers saw law school as a way to “make a difference in people’s lives.” He applied to University of Connecticut, Fordham University (his mother’s alma mater) and almost anywhere that offered a fee waiver, he said.
The Connecticut native had one distant connection in Cincinnati. After applying to UC, Myers reached out to that person and he offered Myers a place to stay for a couple nights when Myers visited the College of Law.
“UC Law was the highest ranked at the time I applied, it had a great human rights program, and it was also the most affordable,” Myers said of his reasons for choosing to attend the College of Law over the other schools.
Law School and Beyond
Looking ahead, Myers says “human rights is still on the map,” noting there are very human rights jobs out there. As a result, Myers said he is focusing a bit more on civil rights.
Last summer, however, Myers had a judicial internship in Botswana through the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights, which he said was “awesome.”
“It was, hands down, a top three experience in my life,” Myers said. “Being in Africa was just mind-blowing. People over there are just incredible.”
Outside of a busy course load, Myers has been very active at school. He was an articles editor for the Human Rights Quarterly this year and will be a managing editor for the Freedom Center Journal, beginning in the fall. He also was a co-director of the Tenant Information Project, he heads up the school’s ping pong club, and he founded the First Generations Law Students organization this past fall.
Myers said the aim of the latter organization was to get “first generation” law students on par with those classmates who had the advantage of parents or other relatives who had been through law school and are working in the legal profession.
“It exceeded all expectations,” Myers said, noting in the fall they had meetings aimed at 1Ls that had decent, but relatively small attendance. “We (then) had this one meeting of four professors – Moore, Bryant, Houh, and Sperino – who showed up to talk about exams. We (mostly) filled up (room) 118. Just the general feedback I’ve gotten about the programming has been nothing but positive – students, faculty, and staff.”
Outside of school, Myers plays a lot of ultimate Frisbee, playing nearly every day around town. He also enjoys playing the guitar, writing comedy, and writing fiction when he can. He will spend this summer working in Connecticut before returning to Cincinnati for his 3L year.
By Jordan Cohen, ‘13
Mary Claire Mahaney ’79 Enjoying Career as an Author
As a child in Warren, Ohio, Mary Claire Mahaney ’79 envisioned a career as a small-town general practice lawyer, just like her father. She made the announcement to her parents in the car as an eighth grader, joking to her father that it was “something you can do without having to be good at anything.”
Today, she is a member of the District of Columbia bar, although she is retired from the practice of law and is actually an award-winning author.
Road to her J.D.
Mahaney came to Cincinnati to study at Mount Saint Joseph, where she graduated in 1976 with B.A. in sociology, with a concentration in social work. During the summers, she worked at the Trumbull County courthouse and the county prosecutor’s office in her hometown.
The summer following graduation, Mahaney married Cincinnati native Herb Walter. She planned to attend law school in town and decided on the College of Law, as it was in walking distance from their apartment.
Mahaney, the youngest of four children, called her first two years at the College of Law “miserable.” She said she dreaded classes and “made it a point never to make eye contact with the professor and try to sit behind someone tall.”
When grades came out, Mahaney had difficulty understanding why she earned what she did, whether good or not so good, she said. Following a year and a half of “grade anxiety,” her husband opened her grades and Mahaney never looked at her grades in her final three semesters.
3L year for Mahaney was “finally bearable,” she said, during which she took mostly “elective” classes. In that final year, Mahaney worked with a local finance company to fill out income tax returns in a working-class neighborhood. She also got the College of Law to approve an internship in which she taught an upper-level white collar crime course through UC’s College of Business Administration.
“I titled the course, worked out the syllabus, studied textbook options, led discussions, brought in speakers, assigned readings and papers, prepared and graded exams, and gave out grades,” Mahaney said. “I had total autonomy, and I loved it.”
An Alternative Career Path
Early on as a 1L, Mahaney realized her vision of being a small-town, general practice lawyer like her father – who had recently passed away in 1975 – would involve both civil and criminal work. But she was not interested in criminal law, in particular because of the prospect of representing people she believed were guilty.
In 1978, she and her husband moved to Madeira and, after passing the bar in the summer of 1979, Mahaney had three clients at her home office. Outside of her mini law practice, Mahaney was a business law instructor at UC’s business school.
“I taught three sections of basic business law – contracts, torts and so on, the subjects covered on the CPA exam,” she said. “I enjoyed the preparation and felt comfortable in the classroom.”
Mahaney eventually published a comment on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in 1981 in the American Business Law Journal. Before getting published, however, she became an Assistant Professor of Business Law at the University of Michigan. While up in Ann Arbor, Mahaney co-authored a piece that made the 1983 Administrative Law Review.
Despite a three-year contract to teach at Michigan, Mahaney’s first pregnancy put her on bed rest. After recovering she decided not to go back to a career for many years, she said.
Finding her Niche in Writing
When her sons, Ed and George, were young – today, they are both graduate students – a friend of Mahaney’s recommended that she be a writer. Mahaney began writing short fiction, and then took jobs writing performing arts columns for various newspapers. Soon after, she had columns published in Chicago’s Irish American News and then for the Herald in Sharon, Pa., where her parents grew up.
Today, she continues to write poems, essays and other fiction, including a short story to be published in an upcoming issue of an anthology called Defying Gravity. It was in 2007, however, when Mahaney published her most well-known work, Osaka Heat. The inspiration for this romance novel came from a trip she took, chaperoning her son’s high school group for a month-long stay in Japan.
“It was after I got back and had time to reflect that I realized living with two Japanese families during that month, and travelling within Japan to boot, had been the experience of a lifetime,” she said “My inspiration for Osaka Heat was Japanese culture and geography. It was the setting, so different from America – but similar in unexpected ways – that caught my attention, that caused me to think, ‘I could write a book-length story set in Japan.’”
It took six years for her to write the book, which won a Gold Medal in Romantic Fiction from Independent Publisher (for the e-version of the book), and two Silvers in Multicultural Fiction from the same organization (one for the paper edition, one for the e-version).
“Many readers have asked for a sequel, but I haven’t written it – yet,” Mahaney said.
Although Mahaney is not practicing law, her law degree has still been beneficial to her more recent writing career.
“I see the writing process as a persuasive process, whether I’m writing fiction, poetry, or nonfiction. The reader needs to empathize with my point of view, even if in the end he or she disagrees with it,” Mahaney said. “So as I write, I’m making a case, as an attorney would.”
She said her law degree also gives her credibility as a writer, editor, and speaker.
Today, Mahaney and her husband live in McLean, Va. Herb is now retired from a 32-year career with Price Waterhouse/PricewaterhouseCoopers. He does financial consulting from their home, where the couple has two orange tabby cats, Rusty and Julius.
In her spare time, Mahaney knits dishcloths, plays the piano, sends paper and email correspondence to family and friends, and enjoys scenic walks around the neighborhood. Not surprisingly, Mahaney reads “extensively.” She also has “500 flicks in my Netflix queue,” she said.
Mahaney said she has three professional fantasies: 1) having Osaka Heat picked up by Hollywood; 2) seeing college instructors assign her book as required reading, and ask her to speak to their classes; and 3) to have a home stay in Bavaria.
“I’m studying German, in part as preparation for setting a story in Germany; in part to be able to speak the language of my Bavarian cousins,” she said.
By Jordan Cohen, ‘13
Coming to a Courtroom Near You: How Eric Kmetz Transitioned from Hollywood to UC Law
For most of his adult life, Eric Kmetz '14 lived in Los Angeles and worked in Hollywood. He could probably talk for hours, sharing everything he saw. Everything he did. For the Canton, Ohio native, Hollywood was an opportunity to pursue his dreams.
But after about 11 years in the industry, a journey of a career that was filled with many ups and downs, Kmetz packed his bags and loaded up his car. He was returning to the Midwest in the summer of 2011, leaving behind a decade-plus worth of memories in the film industry. For law school – a three-year journey of its own kind.
When he settled on law school, Kmetz made a tough decision to return to Ohio. He knew if he stayed in California, it would be difficult to mentally break away from his time in the film industry.
After settling on the College of Law, Kmetz embarked on a four-day drive to his new home in the Greater Cincinnati area. Perhaps he was not saying goodbye to Hollywood. Maybe just until next time. But the cross-country trek marked a new beginning for Kmetz, who was set to join the College of Law’s Class of 2014.
Back Home Again in Ohio
Technically, Kmetz – who is now two-thirds of the way to his J.D. – now resides in Northern Kentucky, living across the Ohio River. His trip from Los Angeles was more symbolic than just moving closer to his childhood home, a few hours northeast of Cincinnati. It marked a complete shift in Kmetz’s life.
“Driving from L.A. to here, it’s almost like transitioning into a different world. You sort of cross this Rubicon when you cross the Mississippi (River),” Kmetz said. “I knew I was ready for this, and that I was leaving that behind, and I just had to be in a different mindset.”
With two years of law school under his belt, Kmetz has been able to successfully change gears, although the transition back to the classroom involved a bit of an adjustment period.
“It took a little while to adjust to the studying, taking notes. I hadn’t taken notes in 15 years or better,” the 38-year old Kmetz said. “I didn’t have the problem with the time commitment, in terms of reading. Sitting through the hour, or whatever length it is for these classes, is a little difficult at times.”
Getting His Start in Film
Kmetz began college at Indiana University in 1993. While he only attended school there two years, it was in the Hoosier State where he had a pair of experiences that led him to Hollywood.
The summer after his freshman year, Kmetz found an unpaid production assistant internship for a feature film being shot in Indiana, and “absolutely loved it.” That fall, Kmetz went on a double date to see the new Quentin Tarantino film “Pulp Fiction” the first week it came out, in October 1994. Kmetz said he walked out of the theater “blown away by it.”
“They thought it was terrible,” Kmetz said. “I said, ‘Are you guys kidding me? That was like the greatest film I’ve ever seen.”
The next morning, Kmetz saw the first showing of the film, which was ultimately nominated for several Oscars, including “Best Picture.” Between that movie and his summer experience, Kmetz noticed there was something powerful about the film medium and realized “storytelling can find its voice through film and through screenwriting.”
During his sophomore year, Kmetz applied to the University of Southern California (USC), known for its prestigious film school. The film school was difficult to get into, and Kmetz was rejected three times. He eventually earned a business degree in 1998 from USC, where he studied film financing.
While at USC, Kmetz developed some contacts through people he met on campus. During his junior year, Kmetz did part-time unpaid work at a production company at Universal Studios, reading “bottom of the barrel scripts,” some of which actually got picked up by the studios. Kmetz felt he could write better scripts, so he presented some ideas to people around the office, and they told him to put his ideas down on paper.
After his first year at USC, he returned home for the summer and wrote his first script, “The Other Side of Simple.” He had read screenwriting books, which suggested he write a film in his hometown with locations he knew and people who would work for free. Upon returning to USC in the fall, Kmetz put a business plan together, intent on raising at least $50,000 to eventually shoot the movie in Canton.
Unbeknownst to Kmetz, his script got circulated around and, during his senior year spring break, he received a call from a literary manager who liked his script. While meeting in person, he convinced Kmetz to take himself off as the director and producer, and he would be able to sell the script to a studio and kick start Kmetz’s screenwriting career. About six months after his Dec. 1998 graduation, it sold to New Line Cinema.
Screenwriting Career Takes Off
In the six months between graduation and New Line Cinema buying “The Other Side of Simple,” Kmetz worked his way into an assistant position for a creative executive at Paramount Pictures. When his screenwriting career later took off, Kmetz was able to return to Paramount and sell them a pitch. That pitch was a script for an action movie called “Tag.” Will Smith heard about it and eventually came on board. But the film never came to fruition and Smith moved onto other projects.
Meanwhile, “The Other Side of Simple” was getting fast-tracked at New Line Cinema, and the script went from a $50,000 budget to $18 million. After the first director left to shoot “The Bourne Identity,” Kmetz received a call from Ted Demme, who had recently finished directing “Blow,” starring Johnny Depp. Demme read the script and wanted to meet. The next Saturday, Kmetz met Demme at a two-story guest house in the back of Demme’s property.
“He is in this big screening room and Johnny Depp is hanging out on the couch, and Ted’s dancing around the room because they just got back rushes for the day from “Blow,”” Kmetz said. “So they’re watching these scenes from the movie for the first time together. Johnny Depp’s just chilling on the couch, smoking a cigarette, (and) I get introduced around.”
Demme was on board to direct the project, and soon after a strong cast was hired as well, including Don Cheadle, Vince Vaughn, Hayden Christensen, Shannyn Sossamon, and Method Man. In the meantime, Demme had brought Kmetz under his wing, brought him along to several meetings, and later hired Kmetz to write another script for him.
Not So “Simple”
While Kmetz’s screenwriting career began to take off, he was regularly taking trips back to Ohio. About a year and a half earlier his brother, Brian, had been diagnosed with testicular cancer. “He fought that for about two years, and then he ended up losing that battle in late August 2001,” Kmetz said.
Kmetz temporarily moved back to Ohio to be with his parents. Meanwhile, “The Other Side of Simple” was on track to begin shooting in Toronto in early 2002. In January, he received a call that Demme had collapsed on a basketball court and had died of a sudden heart attack.
“So I just lost my brother and I just lost one of my closest friends in the film industry, who was also like my mentor, in the course of about fourth months of each other,” Kmetz said.
Kmetz returned to Los Angeles and the film was otherwise ready to go, save for one major problem: no director. A new director was eventually hired to replace Demme, and everyone was sent up to Toronto in November to film “The Other Side of Simple.”
“It was just a big disaster,” Kmetz said. The new director did not seem to have the grasp on the script like Demme. The director started to alienate himself from the cast, and he sort of secretly brought on one of his friends to rewrite the script.
“He wanted to change it from a brother story – which was what I had written – to this sort of love triangle. Having just lost my brother within the year, and I based the whole relationship in the script off our relationship, I couldn’t make those changes,” Kmetz said. “It was terrible. I cried.”
During the holiday break, nearly every actor walked off the project. In early January, Kmetz was told to clean his stuff out in Toronto. The studio had pulled the plug on the film.
A New Beginning
Kmetz decided to take a break from Hollywood and put his career on hold. He placed his belongings in a storage unit, cancelled his cell phone service, and boarded an airplane with a one-way ticket. “That began like a 14-month journey for me, where I just lived out of backpack, traveled through Europe for a while, then ended up getting to Southeast Asia, where I stayed in Laos for about six months and taught English,” Kmetz said.
He helped build an English school there, bought a motorcycle, and traveled through Vietnam and Thailand.
Then Kmetz decided to get back into the film business.
He applied to the prestigious American Film Institute (AFI) and returned to California for round two; only now, he hoped to work his way up as a writer, producer, and director – the “triple threat.” The Canton native began the two-year program in 2005, and he started directing, writing, and producing short films. He wrote one script in particular that James Franco liked, and soon after Franco was the lead in Kmetz’s short film, “Grasshopper.”
Around the same time, a short film of Kmetz’s from prior to leaving the country, was “shortlisted” for an Academy Award. This film, “The Book and the Rose,” was played at nearly 40 film festivals around the world and was selected as a finalist by the Academy. The film narrowly missed the top five, which would have put his film in the awards show.
Writers go on strike
After Kmetz returned to California and completed the AFI program, he was re-energized and beginning to establish himself. But he emerged from AFI in debt, because of his travels and two years at AFI. Then, the Writers Guild of America went on strike from Nov. 2007 through Feb. 2008, although it effectively shut down the industry for more than a year. Kmetz could not get work, as no one was buying scripts.
After the strike ended, Hollywood “emerged in such a different landscape.” Kmetz said the larger studios swallowed up the smaller distribution companies and the major companies were mostly interested in sequels, movies based on books with pre-existing audiences, and superheroes/comic books.
“The movies that inspired me could not get made in the new landscape,” Kmetz said.
As Kmetz struggled to find work, he learned editing and began working as an assistant editor for promo commercials for the TV show “Gossip Girl.” It was his first “9-to-5” job since the six months at Paramount, and he said it was “torture” for him.
“Hollywood wasn’t the place it was when I got into it when I was 21 years old,” he said. “I decided that if I left, first, it would give me a break away from Hollywood to decide if I really wanted to do this the rest of my life. Next, I could also get an education other than writing. When you’re an out of work screenwriter, there aren’t a lot of other avenues to go to make money.”
So Kmetz decided to attend law school as a way to develop another skillset and position himself for a potentially new career.
The ‘Twisted World of Hollywood’
Before leaving California, Kmetz sold the 2007 Franco project to a small distribution company on the East coast. With a tiny market for short films, he did not expect much to come from it.
One night in 2010, Kmetz attended an American Film Market event at a hotel, which featured mostly low-quality B-movies, including the likes of “Sharktopus” and “Teenage Mutant Girl Squad.” While on the top floor, a poster across the room caught his eye. The film was called “Love and Distrust,” and the poster featured several big-name actors, including Franco, Robert Downey, Jr., and Robert Pattinson. Kmetz wondered how a movie like that was made under the radar and being sold there.
“I went over to the poster to see who made this film, and at the bottom of the poster it says, ‘written and directed by Eric Kmetz,’” he said. “So bizarre.”
As it turns out, this company bought five short films (including “Grasshopper”), and edited them together to make it look like a feature film. Since Kmetz was the only writer and director of one of the five films, they decided to use his name. Apparently it had been shown on Showtime in Russia and Hungary, was being sold on Amazon and Netflix, plus was a lead film on Redbox.
“I went home and looked it up,” Kmetz said. “It’s getting all these (really bad) reviews, mostly from Robert Pattinson fans who think they’ve discovered the “underground” Robert Pattinson movie right after he did “Twilight.”
Kmetz, who called this combined film “unwatchable,” said the company did not even contact him to get the master tapes with good sound and visuals.
“I went out to L.A. to make movies and it took about 11 years for me to actually make one, and ultimately I didn’t even know I made it,” he said. “It’s the twisted world of Hollywood.”
Life in Cincinnati
Kmetz will graduate from the College of Law in 12 months, in May 2014. One factor in his decision to come to Cincinnati was that it was “a good school for the money,” especially with the graduate metro rate. Moreover, a good friend of his is practicing in town. In fact, this summer Kmetz will be working with that friend at Markovits Stock & DeMarco, a civil firm located downtown.
Kmetz is a member of Law Review, he just finished a year with the Ohio Innocence Project, and he was recently named the 3L Student Bar Association representative and head of the chess club for the 2013-14 school year. This past year, he was involved with the Trial Practice Team, and has since been named its vice president.
“Trial team has been a great outlet for storytelling,” he said. “Hopefully, I think this appreciation of storytelling is going to find its voice now through law. I’m just not sure where or how.”
Kmetz is interested in being in the courtroom, although he does not think he wants to pursue criminal law. Of course, Kmetz has not officially closed the book on Hollywood.
“Coming to law school is sort of a way to get a larger, diverse skillset, that if I do get back to writing, directing, producing, or another avenue of entertainment, I think I’ll have more knowledge about how to actually capitalize on it,” Kmetz said. “If I don’t go back into entertainment, then it will just open up new doors and I can build a new career.”
In his free time, Kmetz still writes and works on scripts and screen plays. Anything arts-related is up his alley, whether that is seeing plays at Covington’s The Carnegie, operas at Music Hall, or just movies. Kmetz has also been to some Reds games. In March, Kmetz got an Italian Greyhound dog, Wendell, and he goes to the park almost daily.
While he is fully settled into life in the Cincinnati area, Kmetz says he has a “yearning to still get back to an ocean area, whether it’s California or whether it manifests this time on the East Coast.”
Wherever Kmetz may end up and whatever he may do after law school, it will be but another step on his journey. Even if he does not make it back to Hollywood, it is unlikely that he will ever stop writing – even if just for fun. To this day, Kmetz is most proud of his work on “The Other Side of Simple.”
“Everything after that was chasing a paycheck,” Kmetz said. “It took me almost 10 years to realize that.”
By Jordan Cohen, ‘13
Mary Sullivan '80 Joins Observatory Board
CINCINNATI, Ohio, May 2013 – Peck Shaffer attorney Mary Sullivan has been elected to the board of the Cincinnati Observatory Center.
The Cincinnati Observatory Center maintains an observatory in Mount Lookout that has been designated a national historic landmark. Designed by the renowned Cincinnati architect Samuel Hannaford in 1873, the observatory houses the world’s oldest professional telescope still in public use, manufactured by the German firm of Merz and Mahler in 1842. A second telescope, made by Alvan Clark and Sons in 1904, is also still in use. The Observatory also promotes the study and practice of astronomy and provides assistance to professional and amateur astronomers, schools and universities.
Ms. Sullivan has been with Peck Shaffer for more than 30 years and is currently Of Counsel to the firm. She has served as both bond counsel and underwriter’s counsel in transactions throughout the country, including serving as bond counsel to the Ohio Turnpike Commission for 16 years. Ms. Sullivan earned her bachelor’s degree from Xavier University in 1977 and her law degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 1980.
Ms. Sullivan is active with civic groups in Cincinnati and Ohio. She is a member of the Ohio Women’s Bar Foundation Advisory Committee and served as a board member for Seton High School, the Seton High School Foundation, Catholic Social Services of Southwestern Ohio, and the Cincinnati Area Chapter of the American Red Cross, among other activities.
About Peck Shaffer
Peck Shaffer is a national leader in public finance law, with offices in Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio, Covington, Kentucky, Atlanta and Macon, Georgia, Chicago, Illinois, and Denver, Colorado. Peck Shaffer is regularly ranked among the top bond counsel firms in the country (based on principal amount) by information intelligence company Thomson Reuters. More information can be found at www.peckshaffer.com.
Best College Reviews Lists UC’s Rec Center as one of the 25 Most Amazing Centers
Best College Reviews recently named the University of Cincinnati’s Recreation Center as number one on its list of the top 25 most amazing campus student recreation centers. Per Best College Reviews, “The UC Campus Recreation Center is an impressive building…University of Cincinnati has always placed a premium on impressive architecture, and the CRC is an example of this…UC students have all the amenities that modern students expect, but they enjoy partaking of them in world class architectural achievements, which is a big part of why Cincinnati takes our top spot.” Read More
Meet Matthew Barnes: 2013 UC Law Graduate and Equal Justice Works Fellow
What are your plans for the summer? A family vacation at camp or the beach? Relaxing at home? For Matthew Barnes, a recent UC law graduate, summer will bring an opportunity to get a jumpstart on his legal career. Barnes is a recipient of the prestigious Equal Justice Works Fellowship. Learn more about Matt, his experiences, and why the Fellowship is so important to him.
Tell us about your background.
I was born in Kansas City and have moved around a bit, but I mostly grew up in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. I went to undergraduate school at Miami University (Ohio); I was a political science major (with an economics minor). One interesting fact about me—that many people don’t know—is that I’ve been an extra in several Skyline Chili commercials. It’s a source of both pride…and shame!
Why did you choose UC for law school?
I was living in Cincinnati at the time, having just completed a year in AmeriCorps, when I decided I wanted to go to law school. I had been living in Ohio for about five years through my undergraduate years at Miami University and decided I wanted to stay in the area. UC's law school was not only close, but it was a well-respected nationally ranked school that would be more affordable as an in-state resident. I also liked that the school was relatively small and urban-based, and would allow for more of a community feel and give me more time with professors.
What activities were you involved with at UC Law?
I'm a judge in Student Court, which has been a really fun experience. I'm also a Book Review Editor on the Immigration and Nationality Law Review. I participated in the Tenant Information Project my first year as well, and recommend it to anyone looking for some service hours.
What type of law do you want to practice and why?
I’m attracted to the public interest field generally, administrative law, tax law, property, wills and estate planning.
I'm interested in politics, especially policy. I have always wanted to help others, especially those who are underserved in society, through making better policy or implementing policy in a better, more effective manner. I believe that governmental policies and regulations have the most potential to help others, but sometimes can cause a lot of harm if not done right. I think it's a very important and relevant way to try to improve the world around me, by understanding or even being involved in policy making or policy implementation.
Why did you apply to be an Equal Justice Works Fellow?
The Fellowship fit with what I wanted to do and what I had been doing. My experience in AmeriCorps and two summer internships while I was at law school, including Housing Opportunities Made Equal and Pro Seniors, were wonderful and confirmed that public interest law was an area with a lot of need. It is something I wanted to do. The Fellowship gives me the opportunity to make a difference in my own community, since I will be staying here in Cincinnati, and also to gain valuable experience as a legal professional.
Tell us about your EJW Fellowship project.
I am sponsored by the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation, an organization that focuses on ensuring that resources, programs and services exist statewide to serve the unmet civil legal needs of Ohio's low-income population.
I will be working at Pro Seniors, which I interned at last summer. Pro Seniors is a non-profit organization that assists seniors with a variety of legal issues. Many of them are part of the underserved community, some due to their income (or lack of). I will be working specifically on developing a program that will help Pro Seniors’ thousands of clients find out what benefits they qualify for and how to obtain them.
Many seniors who are living paycheck to paycheck qualify for benefits they do not know about or do not have the confidence or expertise to obtain. I will also be working with other senior care providers in the area, such as nursing homes or Meals on Wheels, giving presentations and providing information to the staff as well as the seniors themselves on how to access the benefits they qualify for. At Pro Seniors, I will be working with other staff attorneys on specific cases where a client may be having difficulty with a government agency in obtaining benefits, or is having their benefits reduced or taken away in an unfair manner, and would help with litigation on their behalf.
What does this opportunity mean to you?
It means being given the chance to give back to my community in a meaningful, effective way. I was lucky enough to be born into a world where I had a lot of opportunities and advantages given to me by my parents, my community, and by society in general that others never get. This Fellowship allows me to fulfill what I feel is my duty to try to help others have the same opportunities and benefits I received.
What are your plans post fellowships?
I have been told that the vast majority of fellows stay in public interest afterwards, and that is my plan, though I'm not sure on the specifics. I would want to stay in either a non-profit environment or move on to a governmental agency dealing with an underserved population.
About the Equal Justice Works Program
The Equal Justice Works Fellowship program is the largest postgraduate legal fellowship program in the nation, with nearly 100 Fellows working across the country each year to provide legal assistance to those who could not otherwise afford it. Equal Justice Works Fellows design their fellowship projects with nonprofit organizations, targeting the most crucial needs of the communities they serve. Funding for Equal Justice Works Fellowships is provided by donations from law firms, corporations and foundations from around the country.
*Barnes is a 2013 Equal Justice Works fellow, sponsored by the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation.
Law Students Take Part in University Project Slam
On a recent Saturday in April, four local companies brought together one start-up enterprise and students from six area universities to take part in what may be the area’s first “university project slam.”
What is a university project slam? It’s an opportunity for a local small business to get real world advice from future business, creative, and legal minds, working under the direction and guidance of area professionals.
Teams of students, including UC Law’s Michelle James ’13 and Christian Dennery ’13, were selected to take part in this event.
“Though no legal advice was required, I wanted to revive and reinvigorate my business skills,” said law student Michelle James about why she took part in this venture. “I also have a soft spot for small businesses and it was great to know I was helping out a growing Cincinnati enterprise.”
The local start-up—handpicked by cohost companies: The Brandery Group, CincyTech, bioLOGIC Corp and Centrifuse—faced a critical business challenge. They had created a phone application specifically geared toward music. Banking on the success of the launch, the start-up team was contemplating whether to remain in the industry or use the knowledge and skills to expand into other areas. If expansion was the solution, how should it be done?
The teams, comprised of students from a combination of backgrounds, including MBA, computer information systems, marketing, graphic design, and entrepreneurship, then worked together to figure out the best solution and make recommendations for the company.
James’s team bet on expanding the operation. Dennery’s team recommended the company use the technology to provide exclusive content, building a “buzz” about the program.
About the experience James said, “I wanted to see what practical problems businesses are actually facing on a daily basis. It was a great opportunity to network with other students from other disciplines and schools as well.”
Dennery concurred, “It was a great opportunity to get out of the law school bubble and meet other professionals. And, it was a lot of fun.”
James, who graduates this year, would like to practice in the areas of commercial, corporate, mergers and acquisition, real estate or tax law. Dennery, who also graduates this year, will focus on small practice bankruptcy and small business reorganization and restructuring. He plans to open his own practice.
Teams consisted of students from Miami University, Xavier University, the College of Mt. Saint Joseph, Cincinnati State, Northern Kentucky University, and UC—Law, DAAP, and Business programs. Professor Lew Goldfarb, Director of UC Law’s Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic, was on-hand as an advisor/mentor throughout the day, along with other “advisors/mentors” from various active investment groups, service providers, and local entrepreneurs.
Jon Lieberman '90 Appointed Co-Chair of the ABI Legislation Committee
Mr. Lieberman will serve as Co-Chair of the ABI Legislation Committee for the 2013-2015 term. The Legislation Committee analyzes proposed bills at the request of Congress and legislative staff. In addition to testifying before Congressional committees, the ABI prepares white papers on current bankruptcy topics and also conducts periodic briefings for Congressional staff members. As a part of his duties, beginning this April, Mr. Lieberman will preside over the full Committee’s semi-annual sessions in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles. Policy-makers on Capitol Hill have long relied on the expertise of the ABI in the evaluation of bankruptcy law and efforts to improve the system. Past Co-Chairs include Judge Jeffery Hopkins of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Chief Judge David Houston of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, and Karen Cordry, Esq. of the National Association of the Attorneys General.
“Jon will make an excellent contributor as Co-Chair of the ABI Legislation Committee,” said Alan C. Hochheiser, Managing Partner of the Bankruptcy Unit. “He has a focus and knowledge base that reflects his level of commitment and excellence to his profession.”
Jon J. Lieberman practices in Bankruptcy with a focus on the Consumer Bankruptcy Group and is based in the Cincinnati office. With more than 20 years of bankruptcy experience, Jon is extremely knowledgeable of the industry. He earned his B.A. Semple Classics Scholar summa cum laude Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Cincinnati in 1985 (Distinguished Military Graduate Air Force ROTC), and his J.D. from the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 1990. Jon is licensed in Ohio and Kentucky, and is admitted to practice before the Bankruptcy Courts of the Northern and Southern Districts of Ohio, Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky, Northern and Southern Districts of Indiana, and Eastern and Western Districts of Michigan. He is also admitted to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, U.S. Court of International Trade and the U.S. Supreme Court.
The American Bankruptcy Institute is the largest multi-disciplinary, non-partisan organization dedicated to research and education on matters related to insolvency. ABI was founded in 1982 to provide Congress and the public with unbiased analysis of bankruptcy issues. The ABI membership includes more than 13,000 attorneys, auctioneers, bankers, judges, lenders, professors, turnaround specialists, accountants and other bankruptcy professionals providing a forum for the exchange of ideas and information. In fulfillment of its mission to provide information to its members, journalists, Congress and the public, ABI is engaged in numerous educational and research activities, as well as the production of a number of publications both for the insolvency practitioner and the public.
From Retail to Fundraising, Danker's Career Comes Full Circle at UC
For Ohio native Kim Danker, the College of Law’s new Assistant Director of Development, coming to Cincinnati to work at the law school was a natural step. Having twice lived in the tri-state over the course of her professional career, she was very familiar with UC. “I’ve always been impressed with the university, its architecture, and its history as a research institution,” said Danker. “And I’m enjoying our new president [Santa Ono]; he really seems to enjoy connecting with students—our future alumni and donors.”
Born and reared in Newark, OH—just 45 minutes east of Columbus—Danker went to college at The Ohio State University. Her initial career goal was to be a psychologist. “But after the first year I decided I didn’t want to do that,” she laughed. Trying to figure out her career path, Danker began to look toward something she really enjoyed: fashion. This led to a bachelor’s degree in merchandising, with a minor in business. Armed with her degree she began her professional career at Melon's, a women’s discount clothing store in Columbus, eventually transferring to a larger division in Chicago. From Melon's, Danker went to work for Banana Republic. “I had a good time working for them and I enjoyed Chicago,” she said. “But I realized (through her experiences working in retail) that I was in the wrong industry.” She wanted to do more.
Returning home, Danker went to work for Progressive Insurance as a claims adjuster. “This was in the old days when everything was done by hand,” she said. “We travelled the countryside in a car full of binders with part numbers and such that we manually searched through for customers.”
Moving South Meant Introduction to the Small Business Market
She married and moved to South Carolina, where she was introduced to the small business market with the Greenville, South Carolina Chamber of Commerce. While at the Chamber, Danker began to learn about the world of non-profits and the unique challenges and opportunities they faced. When the Chamber’s president transferred to the Detroit office, he offered her a position with him. So, Danker and her husband moved to the Detroit Chamber where she was in charge of special events for the Economic Development Department. She had opportunity to work with the Canadian-U.S. Business Association; host golf/professional outings; and plan the Consular Ball, one of the Chamber’s high-profile events, among many other things.
After several years, Danker and her husband returned to the tri-state—he for a position with Procter & Gamble, Danker for a position with the Girl Scouts of America. Working in product sales and marketing communication positions there helped her hone skills in logistics, particularly as she was part of the team responsible for the all-important cookie distribution.
This led to a position as membership and volunteer supervisor at the Newport Aquarium, where she enjoyed “visiting the penguin exhibit and 'chatting' with the penguins each morning.” The company, however, was impacted by the economy and her department was downsized. This, though, led to a position at local TV station WCET. “I got to meet really cool people like the Irish Tenors and Nick Clooney. It was fun watching them work.”
Honing Skills in Fundraising and Development
Eventually, Danker moved back north to Wilmington, OH, where she worked in the Development Department for Clinton Memorial Hospital. Danker was responsible for fundraising and board training. After several years, and another unfortunate downsizing, she went to work as director of Wilmington’s Chamber of Commerce.
“I knew that a Chamber membership was a serious investment for many small businesses,” Danker said. I worked hard at providing a business value for their money.” She expanded programming and developed benefit opportunities that made membership a worthwhile value.
Her next position was at Ferno Washington, manufacturer of emergency patient handling and physical therapy equipment, in the administrative area for the International Sales Division. “I got to work with colleagues from all over the world,” Danker smiled. “Now, I have friends in Japan, Australia, United Kingdom, and France.”
All of these experiences led to her new role at the College of Law. Having developed a deep knowledge of non-profits and small businesses, she understands the challenges of many alums she meets—some working as business entrepreneurs, some working in solo practice. And she sees opportunity for growth in the law school’s fundraising and in re-establishing relationships with former students. Indeed, Danker sees her role as re-connecting alumni with their alma mater, finding out about their UC Law experience, and hearing why they became interested in law in the first place. That’s a role she enjoys.
What You Didn’t Know About Kim Danker
- Favorite Reality Show: Project Runway
- Two Things on Her Bucket list:
- Visit Paris
- Dance a really good Argentine Tango
- If I didn’t work in Development, I’d be:
- “At the Cincinnati Art Museum, heading the textiles division specializing in historic costumes; or, in New York with my own design house!
Six Questions with Professor Yolanda Vázquez
Yolanda Vázquez, assistant professor of Law, joined the College this year. She teaches in the areas of immigration, crimmigration, and criminal procedure. Professor Vázquez’ research examines the incorporation of immigration law into the criminal justice system. Her scholarship has focused on the role of criminal courts and the duties of defense lawyers in advising noncitizen defendants on the immigration consequences of a criminal conviction. Find out what makes Professor Vázquez “tick” in this edition of “6 Questions With…”
Why did you want to become a lawyer?
I wanted to change the world, or at least the conditions of those less fortunate. However, I couldn't decide between medical or law school as the way to do it. I worked in an emergency room while I was deciding between the two and determined that while a doctor can patch you up and even save your life, the individual went back into the same environment as before. I thought that by being a lawyer I could actually change the conditions of someone's environment. I don't know if I actually believe that the law can truly change the world or people's circumstances as I did before but I still try, just in case.
What sparked your interest in immigration law?
Honestly, I fell into it. I was a public defender in a domestic violence courtroom when immigration law changed that made a conviction for domestic violence a deportable offense. From that time, immigration and criminal law has continued to intersect and, therefore, continued to be a part of my life.
Why did you go into higher education?
Tupac stated, "I'm not saying that I'm gonna change the world…but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will change the world." I agree.
Who is your favorite lawyer of all time?
I don't have a favorite lawyer. I have the deepest respect for those line attorneys who truly fight every day for the rights of their client, willing to risk their life and/or liberty for "justice." Those individuals aren't famous but truly deserve our respect.
What’s the best part about the law/being a lawyer?
I think it is the worst and the best--The law changes.
What’s on your bucket list?
I want to spend time in the Maldives; in a beautiful hut surrounded by water, lying in a hammock with a good book and no phone or computer.