November 03, 2017

Detroit Mercy Law Dean Phyllis L. Crocker, speaker Eric Sirotkin, and Sirotkin’s classmate from the Class of 1981, Detroit Mercy Law Prof. Gary Maveal, at Sirotkin’s October 25 presentation.During a world tour to promote his new book, international human rights attorney Eric Sirotkin recently returned to his alma mater, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, to share his unique perspective on the role of a lawyer.

“Law is a healing art,” Sirotkin explained to a room full of students and staff — the same room he used to “learn … and sometimes fall asleep in” nearly four decades ago.

His October 25 presentation featured concepts and advice from his book, Witness: A Lawyer’s Journey from Litigation to Liberation, which is available for purchase on Amazon and at local retailers.

Sirotkin asserts that through privileged access to events and opportunities that shape our laws and experiences, lawyers are in a unique position to “heal the conflict” between people, not only in court, but in everyday life. He advised students to set up 501(c)(3) organizations to help fund meaningful activities outside of their regular legal practice and to participate in legal observing at demonstrations to help ensure that civil rights are upheld.

The concepts of empathy and peacemaking are central to his message.

“In law school, we learn about detached objectivity—the concept that a lawyer is separate from the client and the case,” Sirotkin said. “This is not realistic, and it leads to burnout. If I can walk in the skin of the defendant, the judge, the opposing counsel, the jurors — that is going to make me a much more effective advocate.”

A longtime resident of New Mexico, Sirotkin graduated from Detroit Mercy Law in 1981. He has since traveled extensively in his work as a mediator, including to South Africa to assist in the election of Nelson Mandela, and to Vietnam, in support of Agent Orange victims. In addition to his law practice, Sirotkin has served as an adjunct professor at the University of New Mexico School of Law and taught dozens of continuing legal education programs.

— By Amanda Vanover.