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A sidebar with Mike Roth.

Byline: Thomas Franz

Michael J. Roth, a partner at Varnum LLP in Grand Rapids, has been named to the Board of Directors for the Refugee Education Center (REC).

The nonprofit organization serves more than 600 refugee children a year to provide youth support services, including education support.

Roth spoke with Michigan Lawyers Weekly to discuss the reach of REC and his involvement with the Hillman Advocacy Program.

How did you initially get involved with REC?

I initially became aware of REC through my daughter who was in high school at the time. She volunteered as a tutor and really found it quite rewarding. She talked with me about their work, and I reached out to the group's president and indicated that I'd like to be involved in whatever capacity they may have. It really struck me as an excellent organization doing some great work, and I joined this summer.

What does REC mainly work to accomplish?

They really have four pillars of service they provide. First is tutoring for refugee children to try to help them adjust to this new school system and to the expectations that are there.

The results of the kids who go through the system really leave you slack-jawed. They all are basically reading at or above grade level. To a student, they were able to improve by a full letter grade through the tutoring services REC provides.

One of the issues I saw is that REC is only able to service 10 percent of the local refugee population. It'd be wonderful if we could broaden the scope and reach of the services that could be provided so the other 90 percent of refugee students can benefit from the services.

How do you get the word out in the community about 25,000 refugees being in the Grand Rapids region and how they can be helped?

Half of those are children in school systems. How we get the word out is at the school level, letting the various school systems know that we're here, that we have these services that we can provide to try to break down the gap of information barrier.

We also do this by educating the educators as to the services we can provide. It's finding locations within the community where there are dense populations of refugees and going to them and having services available in their neighborhoods, because transportation is very difficult.

What got you into teaching for the Hillman Advocacy Program?

I was a student there back in the 1990s. I participated in the beginner and advanced courses, then I was on the steering committee for a number of years, and have recently been asked to serve as a faculty member, which I did last year.

It's a spectacular program for people throughout the state. I would recommend any young attorney in the state of Michigan who is thinking about trial law to go through this program.

What is the makeup of the program like?

You get a trial and take it from stem to stern. You do openings and closings, you take witnesses and do direct and cross examinations. You deal with expert witness issues. It's typically interesting fact patterns and there's enough information for both parties to make a little bit of hay. It's a very well-thought-out problem and it's a well-done process.

What do you think new trial lawyers need to learn most before practicing that they may have not already learned through law school?

It is what I call getting your trial legs. I look at statistics relating to business and civil litigation, and a bare minority of cases that are filed end up going to verdict. I think it's less than 1 percent at this point.

We are getting an entire generation of attorneys, many of whom are litigators who have never stepped foot in a courtroom, and that can become very daunting.

That's why programs like Hillman are incredibly important, because it helps where there are very few opportunities to get into a courtroom and try a case, it helps people in a very constructive environment stand up in front of their peers, question witnesses, and get immediate and positive feedback. That will help give them the confidence they need, so if they do find themselves in the courtroom, they can advocate vigorously for their client and not be concerned about what they may perceive to be relative lack of experience of being in a courtroom.

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Title Annotation:Varnum L.L.P., Refugee Education Center; Michigan
Author:Franz, Thomas
Publication:Michigan Lawyers Weekly
Article Type:Interview
Date:Sep 7, 2018
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