Name: Joan Vestrand

Title: Associate Professor of Law

School: Thomas M. Cooley Law School

Mailing Address:

Thomas M. Cooley Law School

Rochester/Oakland University

472 O’Dowd Hall

Rochester, MI 48309

Phone: 248 370-3632


Home Page:


Summary Description:

Regulation of the Bar; Character and Fitness. Who regulates lawyers? What is “current good moral character?” What areas of conduct create problems for bar applicants? We sit as bar admission committees to impress how difficult these cases can be.

Admission to the Bar; Reputation; Codes of Conduct. We take the Lawyer’s Oath and become “admitted” to practice. We study reputation. Where does it come from? What impact does it have? We come to realize that reputation is largely self made - determined by our conduct and behavior. We identify the characteristics of good reputation and create written codes of personal conduct incorporating these characteristics. We learn that the Rules of Professional Conduct are minimum standards of behavior and that to be a fine lawyer, a much higher, self imposed, bar is necessary.

We pledge to conduct ourselves in accordance with our self-imposed standards of behavior - even and especially in challenging situations.

Creation of Law Firms; Marketing our Practice. In this class, we form law firms. As an introduction to the Rules of Professional Conduct, we “break” into our firms and tackle ethical dilemmas. The “firms”report to each other their conclusions. (We maintain these “firms”through the term and frequently work through discussion problems through this model). As brand new lawyers, we have yet to acquire any clients. We learn to market our firms. We examine the rules governing advertising and solicitation, analyze different lawyer advertisements, and view a film clip on solicitation.

Exam Exercise; Establishing the Attorney-Client Relationship. We view the film, “Changing Lanes.” During the film, students list the ethics issues they identify and then, as homework, use their rule book to identify the rules in support of the violations. The movie is an opportunity to recognize the “slippery slope” of unethical behavior and the need for not just “good”character, but “strength of character.” We discuss how our codes of conduct may help us attain the fortitude necessary to avoid missteps we might otherwise make. Having marketed our firms, we have potential clients. We study whether we can accept a particular client (the duties of competence, diligence, and legal merit). We learn how to spot and avoid a difficult client, how to properly “sign up”a client, and how to set an ethical fee.

Additional Duties to the Client. We study our remaining duties to the client: the duty of confidentiality, the duty to avoid conflicts of interest, the duty to safeguard client funds and property, and the duty to withdraw from representation, where required.

Duties to the Opposing Party and Tribunal. We are ready to represent clients in litigation. What duties do we owe to the opposing party and the tribunal? What are our duties to third persons? We view several film clips on issues such as fairness in discovery and witness coaching and perform related skits.

Duties to the Profession; Code of Judicial Conduct. What are our duties to the profession? We close the course with a look at the Code of Judicial Conduct.


Program History:

I revamped our PR course to the “law firm” model described above in 2003. I teach the course every term (three terms per year). It is taught in the third term (in the first year) so that students receive the important information regarding character early on and can incorporate it into their professional development. As a former ethics prosecutor and ethics defense counsel, I use a lot of real life examples (actual disciplinary cases) in my teaching of the material. These cases along with the film clips and skits succeed in bringing the class to life. I also place a heavy emphasis in the class on good law practice management technique as it is my experience that poor skills in this area are often at the root of professional misconduct. My goal in this course is not only to teach students how to stay out of trouble and practice well, but to inspire them to be fine human beings - citizen lawyers - that leave a legacy of caring, inspiration and good. I often start each class with an inspirational quote on the board for them to ponder as we tackle the material and I am always challenging them to better themselves through character building and concern for others’ welfare. This last term, my class engaged in not just one, but two community service projects in the 14 weeks we were together. They raised $450 for one of our recent grads (who they have never met) whose family lost everything as a result of Hurricane Katrina and adopted a family through the Salvation Army. Through their generosity, they supplied all the Christmas gifts and groceries for an unemployed single mother and her three young children. I was never so proud. To me, this is what PR is all about.


Supporting Materials:

Sample student Codes of Conduct (pdf)

Course Syllabus (pdf)