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Michelle James’ Corporate Experiences are Great Foundation for Her Career

Often times, lawyers come out of law school on a different career path than what they initially intended. Michelle James ’13, however, has not really strayed from her initial goals, remaining very corporate-minded throughout her first five semesters at the College of Law.

James, a 2010 graduate of the University of Louisville, came to the College of Law as a Corporate Law Fellow. She has researched for Barbara Black, the Charles Hartsock Professor of Law and director of the Corporate Law Center; externed for the in-house department at General Cable in Highlands Heights, Ky. last spring; has enjoyed practical courses such as Legal Drafting and Corporate Transactions; and interned with the College’s Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic (ECDC) this past fall.

While in college, James interned with the economic development department in her hometown of Louisville. She recalled a particular instance, while helping out a business person, in which she saw “the power of economic development.” Realizing how much one can improve a community, she decided she would like to work in economic development – perhaps as a second career at some point.

“I thought a career in law first would prepare me best to do that effectively,” James said

When deciding between law schools, the College of Law’s Corporate Law Center, the proximity to several Fortune 500 Companies, and also the then-newly formed ECDC all factored into James’ decision to come to Cincinnati.

“I was actually between two schools and when I saw that email roll through (about the ECDC), I made my decision to go to UC because I knew a clinic experience would be very important,” she said. “I just felt like there was a lot of practical experience available.”

After her first year at the College of Law, James had the opportunity through a Pepperdine University program to study in London and also work in commercial litigation with the firm Withers LLP. James enjoyed the experience and said she realized that “no matter where you are, legal skills can be applied to any situation.”

Upon returning to Cincinnati for her 2L year, James began taking courses along the corporate law path, including the aforementioned courses taught by Assistant Professor of Practice Sean Mangan.

Developing Skills

As a 3L, school has kept James busy, while she has also been working with Northern Kentucky firm Adams, Stepner, Woltermann & Dusing, PLLC. James says she has been doing “quite a bit of litigation,” both commercial and civil. While she would like to begin working on the transactional side immediately out of law school, she says she has enjoyed her litigation experience and would be happy as a litigator as well.

James interned with the ECDC last semester – under the direction of Lewis Goldfarb, Associate Professor of Clinical Law and the director of the ECDC – working pro bono alongside a fellow 3L in assisting two clients.

“I absolutely loved it because it gave me the confidence to know that I can go out there and help people, which I think that most students really want to do,” James said.

James and her partner, Brett Smith, were challenged early on, as one of their clients questioned them in an initial client meeting about why he should not just use LegalZoom instead of working with the legal interns.

“We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard than just pumping out generic contracts. You have to take care of your clients,” James said. “It kind of taught me how to identify a client’s need and how to best serve that need or figure how to serve that need.”

Cincinnati Life

James, who would like to stay in Cincinnati after graduating but is open to moving for the right opportunity, has enjoyed living in the Queen City since beginning law school in 2010. While school has kept her busy enough that she admits she doesn’t fully “know the city yet,” James did call her two and a half years in the area “great.”

When not at the College of Law, James can often be found at CrossFit Covington, where she has been taking on the popular and relatively new strength and conditioning program since June.

“It’s such a dynamic sport and not only do you get a great workout, but you are part of a really fun and supportive community,” James said. “It’s a really nice outlet and different thing to be doing other than reading a book.”

The 3L has also enjoyed attending festivals, Findlay Market, Reds games, and movies. She also participated in a four-person relay at last May’s Flying Pig Marathon with three other classmates. James recently served as a bridesmaid in a friend’s wedding, while she also spent two weeks of her winter vacation abroad.

The Louisville native has an older brother who is a 3L at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock Bowen School of Law.

“It’s funny because he wants to do criminal defense and I want to do corporate transactional work,” James said. “When I don’t know anything about crime or agricultural law – because that’s popular down in Arkansas – I’ll call him. If he has something on corporations, he’ll call me. “

By Jordan Cohen, ‘13