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Huntington Woods

May 22, 2013

Law students honor Wayne State professor for second straight year

By Joshua Gordon
C & G Staff Writer

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Eric Zacks, a Wayne State University assistant law professor, sits with his sons, Micah, 5, left, and Asher, 7, May 15 outside their Huntington Woods home. Wayne State’s second- and third-year law students voted Zacks Professor of the Year for the second consecutive year.

HUNTINGTON WOODS — It’s not always easy for teachers to engage their students with the lesson of the day or any of the numerous assignments. Despite having been students at one time, Eric Zacks feels some teachers forget what it is like to be sitting at the desk and not standing up front.

Bonsitu Kitaba didn’t get that feeling from sitting in any of the three law classes she had with Zacks at Wayne State University. On the contrary, she feels Zacks, a Huntington Woods resident, tries to make a connection with each of his students.

“I’d say, from personal experiences, Professor Zacks’ classes provide students with a practical and insightful view of the legal profession,” Kitaba said. “He is able to relate any teaching material to the realistic concerns that attorneys and clients confront on a daily basis.”

It is Zacks’ ability to relate course material to real-world situations that has made him a favorite among law students, Kitaba said. For the second year in a row, Zacks was named the Upper Class Professor of the Year, as voted by second- and third-year students.

“Sometimes, teaching in a larger classroom, you think you make connections and hope for the classes to be not only interesting, but useful — that there is some kind of takeaway,” Zacks, 35, said. “Every teacher believes they are doing that, so it is very gratifying to have students tell you in a very public way that they think you are doing a good job. It is very meaningful; it is what we strive for.”

Zacks, a graduate of West Bloomfield High School, earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in 1998 and went on to earn his juris doctorate from Harvard University four years later.

Before becoming an assistant law professor at Wayne State, Zacks practiced law for eight years at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP in Detroit, serving as one of the active partners in the recruiting process for the firm.

Still, growing up with a mom who taught nursing courses and marrying a math teacher showed Zacks how gratifying teaching could be.

“There was just something about teaching and watching my wife, who is very passionate about what she does. It resonated with me,” Zacks said. “The things my wife would come home and talk about with the difference she made with students, I always felt I was providing services for my clients and learned a lot, but the difference now is I am affecting the community. I teach students not just practical skills, but provide opportunities for careers, and that is satisfying.”

As an assistant professor, Zacks is on the tenure track to earn an associate professor position and then a full-time position. In his three years at Wayne State, he has taught corporations, corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, securities regulation and a first-year contracts course.

Zacks isn’t practicing law anymore, but he still is learning during his research for his scholarship, which focuses on behavioral sciences in contract formation and breach and enforcement.

The background and foundation of any area of study is important, Zacks said, and there is no way to get around teaching it. But, he tries to find entertaining ways to relate the information to his students.

“What I am trying to do is take what I regret not knowing when I got out of law school and try to fill those gaps,” he said. “There were things I didn’t know when I was hired to be a lawyer, and I want to teach those things in the classroom. I try to bring in a variety of business people involved in transactions and give students a taste of what they will face out there.”

It is Zacks’ openness that has made him a hit with the students, Kitaba said. Plus, he has the ability to inject life into otherwise slow days.

“His teaching style is open and conversational, which makes students feel confident to share their perspectives,” Kitaba said. “Professor Zacks always encourages participation and is not afraid to push a student’s answer to help foster greater understanding of the material, and (he) willingly offers his connections in the legal community to his students.

“Overall, I think he truly understands where we, as students, are coming from and is always ready with a funny anecdote to lighten up class on a Friday afternoon.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Joshua Gordon at jgordon@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1077.