Dual opportunity: Award-winning law graduate lands two federal clerkships


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

As an undergraduate at Cornell, Jennifer Fischell studied Mandarin and linguistics — and thought she might use those skills to enter law and do international transactional law with Chinese clients.

A passion for law further increased after a summer job of paralegal work at Honigman in Kalamazoo, handling transactional work.

“Little did I know that by the time I graduated law school, I would end up being interested in, and doing, something completely different,” she said.   

And little did she know the challenges she would face at the University of Michigan School of Law, after winning a full ride Darrow merit scholarship.

Badly injured in a skiing accident on her 1L year spring break, she missed two weeks of classes and returned to Ann Arbor in a wheelchair, unable to walk until her broken leg healed.    

A friend recorded every lecture she had missed.

The law school found her a wheelchair-accessible dorm room. Classmates wheeled her to and from classes and meals.

The dean of students delivered and picked up a final exam she took in her room. And the faculty pieced together projects to work on over a summer of physical therapy in Ann Arbor.    

“I’ve never felt so supported by my community,” Fischell said. “I'm not sure you can call this defining experience something I enjoyed, but it represents the U-M community I love.”     

The physical challenges certainly didn’t prove a setback.

In her 2L year, she wrote and published a student note with the Michigan Law Review that won the 2015 ABA Antitrust Section Writing Award. Meanwhile, along with a classmate, she received the Class of 1908 Memorial Scholarship Award for highest scholastic average in her class upon starting her 3L year.    

At the end of her 3L year, Fischell was a finalist in the prestigious Campbell Moot Court Competition.

At graduation, she was selected by faculty as one of two students to receive the Henry M. Bates Memorial Scholarship Award, widely held to be the law school's highest honor and given to outstanding senior.

Fischell’s intensive involvement in activities at MLaw included working with student-funded fellowships raising money for public interest students, helping to run, and competing in, the Campbell Moot Court Competition, and serving as an articles editor on the Michigan Law Review.     

She also worked with the Asia Law Society and, in her 1L year organized the “China” contingent of an Asia Law Society Symposium, helping to bring Chinese professors and practitioners to present a variety of business law topics.

The following year, she served as the organization’s co-president, and helped organize lunch talks and other events.

“Given all the law school has done for me, giving back was the least I could do,” Fischell said. “It’s a tremendous honor to receive the Bates award — and I’m beyond grateful for all the support I’ve received from friends and loved ones over the last three years. It meant a great deal to my family to hear my work recognized at graduation.”   

Her skiing injury resulted in a change of law focus.

Nixing plans to go to China at the end of her 1L year, Fischell worked in the law library, worked as a teaching assistant for the summer starters' legal writing class, and did research for a couple of professors.

Several people highly recommended looking into clerkships — a career path that would offer substantive legal writing, something she came to love in law school and knew clerkships would emphasize.    

“In what felt like a blink of an eye I went from planning on being a transactional attorney to having two federal clerkships,” Fishell said.    

Until July, Fischell, who last year was a summer associate at Simpson Thacher in New York City, will work as a part-time law clerk at the U-M Office of General Counsel.

“I'm excited to get to work with the wonderful lawyers there and get a glimpse into what they do,” Fischell said.    

She also will intern remotely for Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen, helping with research projects.

“I love legal research, and it will be good to keep those skills sharp over what would otherwise be a sleepy couple of months,” she said.    

In August, Fischell will start a year’s clerkship with Judge Raymond Kethledge on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

“I’m looking forward to working with Judge Kethledge and the wonderful team of clerks he has put together for this year,” she said. “It will be a whirlwind, writing-intensive experience.”   

Fischell will then move to New York to clerk for Judge Ronnie Abrams of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

“I was able to meet with my future co-clerks last summer while I was in New York, and working with them and the judge will be terrific,” Fischell said. “And I’m excited to return to the East Coast to be closer to my family there.”   

In her leisure time, the New Jersey native enjoys reading, photography, and biking — and hopes to get back on skis sometime in the future.     

Fischell also has wonderful memories of four months in Beijing in 2012, doing an intensive and immersive Mandarin program, where she enjoyed trips to Chengdu, Xi An, Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guilin, Yangshuo, and Hong Kong, and hiked Mount Emei.

“It was an amazing experience,” she said.