Alumni Q&A

Michelle Arendt

Michelle Arendt

Associate Counsel
Case Western Reserve University
Formerly a shareholder in the Cleveland office of Ogletree Deakins (2008-2015)

Michelle Arendt spent seven years as an attorney in the Cleveland office of Ogletree Deakins, where she focused a large percentage of her practice on representing higher-education clients. Her move to Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in 2015 was a natural transition because she was outside counsel to the university for much of her career. Michelle also attended law school at CWRU and has served as an adjunct professor at the law school. As the Associate Counsel, Michelle handles all labor and employment matters, which include affirmative action/OFCCP, benefits, and, at times, immigration issues. She also supports the Human Resources Department and the Office for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity, and works directly with the central administration and various schools on employment-related matters.

  • You served as outside counsel to CWRU for many years before you were named Associate Counsel in March of 2015. What issues that you face as in-house counsel are different from the issues you faced as the school’s outside counsel?
    As outside counsel, I was more involved in litigation strategy and advising on what employment action to take with respect to specific employee situations. While I still do that, I also now find myself in discussions of bigger-picture issues, where we are weighing the risks and the pros and cons of implementing new policies and practices.
  • What are the most prevalent employment law issues you face as in-house counsel at a private university? What are the most challenging?
    One challenge is that at a university (as opposed to a for-profit corporation), there are more categories of individuals—such as graduate students, visiting faculty, and research scholars—whose statuses as university “employees” are unclear, and an employee’s status may depend on which set of laws/regulations you are dealing with. I was so used to dealing with situations where an individual’s employment status was clear and presumed. Now, sometimes I can get hung up on that issue before being able to proceed with a course of action.
  • You’ve been connected to CWRU in some capacity (as a student, adjunct professor, outside counsel, etc.) since you started law school there in 1995. What is it about the school that keeps you so connected?
    I think part of it is being a Clevelander. CWRU is a significant presence in Cleveland and is important to many aspects of the community. In being part of the community, I find myself connected to the school. I also find something hopeful and positive in being associated with an entity that is educating our future leaders, scientists, and legal and medical professionals.
  • What led you to the law as a career?
    I grew up when L.A. Law was one of the popular shows on TV. It sparked my interest in law as a career. Even as I learned more about the actual practice of law (as opposed to the glitz and glam of how it can be portrayed on TV), I remained interested. I took a course in college that focused on the decisions of the Rehnquist court, and that sealed the deal for me. Understanding how our laws and legal standards evolve maintained my attention in the way other things did not.
  • If you weren’t a lawyer, what would you be doing?
    I’ve asked myself that on occasion and have never really come up with a consistent answer, which is reassuring in some ways that I picked a career that aligns with my goals and interests. But, if it really came to doing something else, lately I think teaching is what I’d do.
  • Is there anything else you’d like to share with Ogletree Deakins attorneys and alumni?
    Just that I am grateful for all the expertise and legal skills that were imparted to me during my time with Ogletree Deakins. My experience there was so worthwhile and continues to help me in my current role.
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