by Mike Galbreath
Sanford Schulman '85 has built a thriving criminal law practice in Detroit. And he is generous about opening his practice and sharing his work with Kalamazoo College students through the Center for Career Development's Discovery Externship Program.
In 1990, the year after he graduated from Wayne State University with his law degree, he founded Schulman and Associates. The firm now operates from the 23rd floor of the Guardian Building in downtown Detroit. He has another office in Detroit and utilizes two suburban offices. Besides criminal cases, Schulman and the nine other attorneys in the practice handle family law (including divorces), personal injury, civil law and immigration cases. Schulman has tried more than 60 first-degree murder cases in Michigan, most of them in the Detroit area.
A typical morning for Schulman sees him in court working a first degree murder case, an armed robbery, a divorce, a B and E (breaking and entering) and a drug case.
"I represent the most difficult clients," says Schulman. "I've done double murders, triples, quadruples, and even a beheading."
His afternoons are generally spent back in the office, preparing for the next day's court appearances, consulting with other attorneys in the firm, and often leaving the office to confer with incarcerated clients. He also often deals with media calls about some of his firm's cases. Yet even with that workload, Schulman has had more than a dozen student externs spend time at Schulman and Associates.
Schulman came to Kalamazoo College from Cranbrook High School, a college preparatory school in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., that Schulman terms a feeder-school for places like the University of Michigan and Kalamazoo College.
"Attending Kalamazoo College was a good decision for me," says Schulman. And one of the reasons was diversity. "I had more diverse friends at 'K' than my high school friends who went to Michigan did. I was surprised that my choice was as good in that respect. Because Kalamazoo College is small, you are forced to interact as opposed to hide [within a group of similar students]."
His experiences at 'K' also helped him make a significant career decision after he became an attorney.
Rather than work in a large law firm, Schulman "decided to go on my own, and I felt confident that I would succeed. I don't know if Kalamazoo College did it for me, but I always felt that it gave me the springboard. Sometimes I joke with my wife that I didn't need Kalamazoo College at all. I just needed the opportunity to go to Spain and to do a SIP and all those things [that 'K' offered]."
As with many alums who become involved with the Center for Career Development, Schulman did so because of his undergraduate experience with internships. But his reasoning may be different than other alumni.
"I ended up doing this extern stuff because that program for me at Kalamazoo College was terrible," says Schulman. "The science kids went to Upjohn, and all the English majors had to find a job somewhere."
Schulman found employment washing dishes in a Southfield, Mich., restaurant.
"It was okay for me; I didn't mind working there," he says. "I was probably one of the smartest kids in the dishwashing room."
But Schulman didn't leave interning at that.
"When I came back to Kalamazoo College, I went to law offices in the area on my own, knocking on doors, asking if I could do an internship," says Schulman.
A Kalamazoo attorney took him on. "He let me hang out and watch," Schulman says. "That didn't inspire me to be a lawyer, but at least it got me in the door and it was helpful just being in that environment. So, I always thought that, if and when possible, I'd like to give back to the school by giving [students] maybe a smoother transition."
Schulman has praise for the current extern program.
"During my time, it was 'go and find your own job,' which is not really helpful, compared with now, which is a much better program."
At one point while still at "K," Schulman considered becoming an environmental lawyer and worked in that area for a Kalamazoo law firm. But he discovered that environmental law wouldn't be his career. He believed that he couldn't make enough of a difference.
But he feels that he can make a difference in the lives of his criminal defendants.
"I couldn't change the world," says Schulman. "But at least in this courtroom on this particular day, maybe in the next five minutes, I might make a significant impact on this guy's life. Not that [someone] doing public policy in Washington D.C. isn't going to make a difference with clean water, but for me I could just see that this defendant is walking out of this courtroom because I believed that he might not be guilty. It's the idea that a life (the defendant's) does hang in the balance"
It's the act of challenging from the defense table what might appear to be true that Schulman shows his "K" externs.
"And I suggest to them that sometimes initial feelings and ideas can be quashed when they really have an opportunity to hear the whole thing," he said. "And that's ultimately the judicial process. Sometimes when you're coming from the Hill, no matter who you are, you haven't really seen enough. And even in my mid 40s, every day I realize how little I really know about life and the world."
Extern Thomas Turner says he learned a good deal spending time with Schulman. "I had never known a defense attorney before," Turner says, "and knew little to nothing about the system. Like most people, I had preconceived notions about defense attorneys and their motivation, and had already eliminated that form of law from my possible fields. But working with Sanford showed me that defense attorneys are good people, who work very hard to make sure that our justice system works. I learned that our system would crumble without balance, and defense attorneys provide that balance. Defense attorneys aren't slimy, seedy characters, putting the public at risk by getting criminals out of jail. Instead, it would be fairer to say that defense attorneys provide insurance against injustice."
"You have these young people who are really sponges and are ready to take it all in," Schulman says. "[Externs] go with me to hearings and meetings and they're right in there; they're meeting judges; they're meeting other court [personnel]; they're sitting right with me at the table; they're talking to the defendants; they're going to the prisons." Externs have also worked on political campaigns for two of Schulman's partners who were running for judgeships.
"His method of mentoring is kind of a whirlwind approach where he puts you in unexpected new situations and you have to find your own solution, "says Emily Yang, who was a Schulman extern in 2008. "For example, he called me up one day after work and put me in a conference call with a Spanish client knowing that I had studied abroad in Spain. I was completely unprepared, but that was how he forced us to learn and think outside the box. "
Schulman learned to speak Spanish during his study abroad in Madrid. That ability came to play recently when Schulman argued a case before the Michigan Supreme Court. "The reason I got the case," he says, "is because I went to Kalamazoo College [and did foreign study in Spain]. I didn't go into this business planning on representing Spanish-speaking individuals, but I can. Learning a foreign language just gives you tools to make you more able to be in the world. The externship is another good example. It gives you another tool and experience that academia really doesn't offer.
"Sometimes you think you know something when you're in college," says Schulman, "and then you come here and you see the real world, and you know that you know nothing."
Carmen Dorris did an externship with Schulman at the same time Emily Yang was there. The two have since become roommates.
"The externship went above and beyond our expectations," Dorris said, "and has been invaluable to me in assessing my career choices and what I would like to do in the future. The externship was extremely hands-on, we were doing many of the same things that Mr. Schulman
"I joke that I didn't need 'K' at all. I just needed all those things it offered."and his attorneys were doing. We were never simply just sitting and watching from afar. Mr. Schulman, particularly during the jury trials, would frequently turn to us and say, 'What do you think?' or 'What should his defense be?' and he would actually use our thoughts and ideas."
Externs also have the opportunity to learn basic things, like how to dress properly in the business setting, according to Schulman. One extern from a few years ago in particular dressed inappropriately. "College is a place where you can get away with that [stuff]," says Schulman, "but here there is conformity on how to conduct yourself in the real world, how to relate to people, how to dress in the real world, how to talk to people and communicate in the real world, how to promote yourself and how to project expectations in the real world, how to sell yourself and how to buy things in the real world, what to believe and not believe in the real world. You don't get that out of a book."
Schulman stresses that even if a student doesn't go on to become an attorney, the extern experience will be helpful.
"It was definitely one of the most worthwhile job experiences I have ever had," says Yang, who doesn't plan on attending law school. "Every single day was different, and there was no way of knowing what to expect. My time spent there was extremely eventful, from murder cases to divorce cases, we saw the whole spectrum. I even was accosted by the FBI because I fit the profile of a lead witness for a federal case involving an underage prostitution ring - talk about experience!"
Schulman points out that Yang's encounter with the FBI occurred outside a courtroom, and he was later able to use the incident on behalf of his client, making the point that if even the FBI couldn't judge correctly Yang's age, how could his defendant be expected to judge the age of the lead witness.
"We could tell that Mr. Schulman was very comfortable having interns," says Dorris. "He would always introduce us to other attorneys, his acquaintances, and even judges. In fact, one judge took a recess on his case and took us on a tour of the courtroom and his chambers."
Schulman has also taken many of his externs to his home in West Bloomfield for dinner with his wife and three children and some basketball in the driveway.
In addition, externs even learn more about "K" away from "K."
"Through working with him, we were also able to get in touch with other "K" grads, and I am amazed at many of the different things that they're doing," Dorris said. "Everywhere we went, people that we talked to knew about Kalamazoo College or knew someone who had attended "K." The fact that he was an alum made the experience all that much better because there was never a dull moment or lack of conversation. In between trials, or scheduled events, we would sit and talk about Kalamazoo, the campus, and our experiences as undergrads."
"Kalamazoo College is a springboard into [many] different arenas," Schulman says. "If the smart kids take advantage of those, it will have a significant effect on their ability to make choices in the future."
"I know from our positive experiences with Sanford Schulman, and the experiences of the other externs, that there is a positive buzz about the 'Schulman externship,'" says Dorris, "and students are very excited about possibly having the opportunity to be his externs in the future."
Kalamazoo College students Emily Yang (left) and Carmen Dorris were involved in a wide range of activities during their 2008 externships with Sanford Schulman, including helping out on a political campaign for one of Schulman's partners who was running for a Wayne County judgeship.
Sanford Schulman and his family pose for the camera on the day of his daughter's b at mitvah in 2008. Shown are daughter Stephanie (12), Sanford, wife Susan, and sons Andrew (5) and Justin (9). The Shulmans often have externs to their home for meals and basketball in the driveway.
Thomas Turner (left) with mentor Sanford Schulman, "under glass."