A Message from Dean West
Looking Out for Each Other
You can never predict where a conversation with a Michigan Law student will lead.
I met with Adam Miller-Howard, ’13, at one of Ann Arbor’s favorite watering holes in spring 2013. We were both transitioning; he was preparing to leave town and launch his career and I was about to become dean. I knew he had a topic he wanted to discuss, and I thought the most I could offer was a bit of hopeful nodding before I would assure him that he was going to be great at his new job in California.
During his 1L year in my Criminal Law class, Adam was the first person I cold-called on the first day of classes. He thinks it’s because the dark color of his T-shirt stood out; really, it’s because he was naive enough to sit in the right, or wrong, seat: up front, stage left. Our exchange that day means that I’ve known from the beginning of Adam’s time in the Law Quad that he is a smart guy and a bit of a risk taker. It made sense, then, that he was involved in a project that required a great deal of smarts and a certain element of risk: a proposal to create summer funding for first-year students.
The concept was not new to me when Adam—beer in one hand, spreadsheets in the other—broached it that evening. Everyone at the Law School knew that demand exceeded supply when it came to providing financial assistance to 1Ls with unpaid or under-paying internships. I knew that a group of students had been vetting a plan to address the problem, but I didn’t know the particulars. As I listened to Adam’s pitch, it became clear that this was not another wouldn’t-it-be-great-if idea. It was backed with a lot of research and a solid model. For every question I asked, Adam had a good answer—just like his cold-call.
As I learned more, I saw what a team effort the proposal was. I also saw how the four students (now alumni) who championed it illustrate why our community produces such successful lawyers. They didn’t try to top each other; rather, they played off of each other and they listened—really listened—to each other. Each brought unique skills to the project. Adam was the pragmatist-in-chief. With a finance background, he was the one who translated a lofty idea into a workable model. Brian Holbrook, ’13, and Daniella Schmidt, ’13, were the project’s heart—the people who had been on the front lines of the problem and lit the fire to find a solution. Adrian Ohmer, ’13, was the connector—the person who knew that soliciting input from a diverse cross-section of our community, refining the plan based on their feedback, and repeating the process again and again would be critical to achieving the buy-in that would move the project forward.
The result of their hard work is this exciting program. I love that this program is going to happen, and I equally love how this program is happening: An idea born of students is being helped by a combination of students and former students. Michigan Law is a place where we look out for each other and where our commitment to doing so spans generations. The 1L summer funding program and the people who have made it possible are incredible examples of that, and I am profoundly grateful to each of them.
Mark D. West
Nippon Life Professor of Law