Mieke ter Poorten
Mieke ter Poorten has immense enthusiasm and passion for life and the law. Even though this is her final semester at Southwestern, the fourth-year PLEAS student and working mother of two has thrust her energy into a massive project for Justice Hastings' Trial Advocacy Seminar. Early in the semester, he casually mentioned a book called The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It, which ter Poorten immediately read. "I was fascinated by the discussion of consequences that incivility - from boorishness to bad behavior - has on businesses," she explained. "I started thinking: How does incivility manifest in the legal process, and what are the unintended consequences?"
This led her to embark on a research project that involved interviews with several prominent business leaders, including a senior executive at Microsoft who told her about a case that cost the company $97 million of dollars and nine years of litigation, in part because its outside counsel set the wrong tone with judge in the first three months. On the positive end of the spectrum, she spoke with a chief of in-house counsel at Cisco Systems, a company renowned for its culture of civility, which has resulted in an impressively low four percent voluntary turnover rate. As law can be an adversarial process, particularly when litigation is involved, ter Poorten wanted to know if the corporate mandate for civility extended to the way in which they practiced law. At Cisco, a large multinational corporation, the answer is yes.
"The practice of law with integrity and civility is something I feel very passionately about," ter Poorten said. "Cisco is a fantastic illustration that shows that you can practice law with integrity and be successful in getting the results you want. To me, there is something very teachable about what I'm learning." She interviewed judges as well, including Hon. Cynthia Rayvis ‘85, a Southwestern alumna who sometimes sees a sense of entitlement in her courtroom from the younger lawyers and believes it would better serve lawyers, their clients and the legal profession if civility became an integral part of the dialogue in legal education.
Although ter Poorten is working on this project as a paper for Justice Hastings' course, both Dean Garth and Professor Gharakhanian have encouraged her to seek publication. That support is just part of the reason ter Poorten loves Southwestern so much. "Southwestern is unique because it created the only law program in Los Angeles that would allow me to pursue my dream of becoming a lawyer and still provide me the time to parent my young sons," she said. "PLEAS was specifically designed so that mothers could attend law school during the hours school-age children are typically in school. I was ensured my schedule would not go later than 1:30 so I could be home when they got home. It is that generosity of spirit that permeates this school from top to bottom and is tangible from the Dean to the security guards. My professors have been accessible practically 24 hours a day."
For 12 years, ter Poorten has managed film and television writers and directors, a job she has kept while in law school. Because of her schedule and family obligations, she has not been able to join a lot of clubs and activities on campus, focusing instead on learning all she can from her professors. She did participate in the summer program in Vancouver, taking her sons Jonas and Gabriel with her. "I could not believe how lucky I was to be in that idyllic setting, discussing sentencing theory, and pushing and pulling on the idea of retribution verses rehabilitation while taking Environmental Law with Vice Dean Parrish and International Justice with Professor Williams," she said.
Other Southwestern instructors ter Poorten admires include Professors Smith, Bateman and Shafiroff. She also loved Professor Gharakhanian's LAWS course. "There is no better professor to greet you at the front door of your law school education," ter Pooten said. "Professor Gharakhanian has quiet integrity, a razor sharp brain and elegance. She is the embodiment of what we should all strive to be."