Our bond with LSC’s grantee that serves Washtenaw County and the neighboring area—Michigan Advocacy Program—puts students to work on behalf of clients in several ways. Through the Family Law Project, for example, teams work under the supervision of a staff attorney to develop case strategy; conduct interviews; draft pleadings, motions, and orders; and perform other tasks that practicing lawyers do on a routine basis. In addition, Michigan Law faculty and students support the Michigan Poverty Law Program, which was co-founded by Clinical Professor Suellyn Scarnecchia, ’81, and Bob Gillett, ’78, the executive director of Michigan Advocacy Program (both of whom spoke at the Access to Justice Forum about how collaborations between legal services providers and law schools help people in need and provide experiential training).
Many of the students in these programs go on to full-time public interest careers. Others will work for law firms and maintain a pro bono practice. Still others will go down an entirely different career path but find ways to serve their communities. Regardless of their ultimate professional pursuit, students repeatedly say that their experiences in our clinics and with these programs marked the moments they first felt like “real lawyers” and understood a lawyer’s tremendous power to change someone else’s life.
In our cover story, you’ll read about alumni who are using technology to increase access to the legal system, as well as Professor J.J. Prescott, whose startup, Court Innovations Inc., allows people to handle routine court matters online. As court systems and legal aid clinics look for ways to do more with less, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, a former Michigan Law professor and co-founder of the Michigan Innocence Clinic, told Access to Justice Forum participants that it’s time for students—and not just law students—to be innovative. “If we do it right, technology has the possibility to disrupt the system, and smart students in law, business, engineering, and public policy can figure out how to use technology to improve access,” she said. “The access-to-justice Uber is out there, and it’s going to change everything.”
I am proud of the Law School’s enduring commitment to serving the public, and the ways we are bringing students from different disciplines together to innovate around complex problems. I also am proud of our alumni, you who use Michigan Law’s training to effect change in your neighborhoods, your states, your countries, and beyond.
Mark D. West
Nippon Life Professor of Law