A Message from Dean West

In November, the Law School hosted the Access to Justice Forum, sponsored by Legal Services Corporation (LSC). As part of the weekend’s activities, LSC Board Chair John Levi and President Jim Sandman, along with U.S. Representative Debbie Dingell [D-MI], served as honorary captains for Michigan’s football game against Minnesota.

At first glance, the connection between the country’s single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans and the country’s winningest college football program might seem remote. (And for those of you who view football not as an important part of Michigan life, but as a sign of misplaced priorities in higher education, I encourage you to keep reading anyway.) For the past two years, Coach Jim Harbaugh has served on LSC’s Leaders Council. He has been an outspoken advocate for ensuring the justice system is equally accessible for all Americans, including speaking on Capitol Hill in June about the access-to-justice gap and the importance of maintaining funding for LSC. (You can learn more about that on page 73.) That’s the kind of thing that happens only at Michigan.

One of Michigan Law’s core values as a public institution is to serve the community and to instill in our students the desire to do the same, regardless of their career paths. Our longstanding partnership with the work of LSC and its affiliates in the state of Michigan allows us to do both.

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
Dean
Nippon Life Professor of Law

5 Quotes You’ll See...In This Issue of the Law Quadrangle

“We must quit throwing sand at each other in the sandbox and realize there’s very few of us in this sandbox. The game is being played somewhere else.”

“I care about the reputation of the hedge fund industry for the hedge fund industry’s sake because I’m part of it. If I can help make it more effective, more well received by regulators around the world, then we’re all better off.”

“I was with him when he did the first Saturday Night Live after the election. I was in his dressing room trying to get him to sign the Netflix deal.”

I can still hear him intone, ‘Gross income is all income from whatever source derived,’ something I repeated just last month when a friend indignantly asked me why her bonus from her employer had taxes deducted.”

“There’s no one path for where lawyers can go in their career. I continue to redefine myself and what it means for me to have a meaningful career as a lawyer.”

Letters to the Editor

I saw on the “Closing” page in the recent edition mention of the Psurfs from the mid-1950s. The Psurfs were later revived; I joined my first year, in fall 1971. We called it a “singing and drinking group.” We practiced on Friday afternoons, usually with a few beers, and performed a few times a year, e.g., for faculty or other Law School functions, for fun and our beer money.

I see in the picture Whit Gray, who later was our beloved professor in Contracts (and other subjects). I didn’t know he helped found and sang in the group! I remember how he memorized all of our names and where we sat after two to three days of class, and he then could call on any of the 90-plus of us by name and location, without notes, for the rest of the semester. I also remember that he had taught himself Chinese; at that time, he was among the first Americans who took an early interest in Chinese law. He is a wonderful man.

David Clark, ’74

I read with interest your articles on the Detroit Public Schools and its progeny but feel it missed the mark as to the proximate cause of DPS’s decline.

Detroit Public Schools’s rapid decline was caused, primarily, by criminal financial mismanagement. The first reform board was in place in 1999, and, after control was returned to an elected board in 2004, the district ran budget deficits for the next three years totaling almost $120 million. General fund balance, a measure of the rainy day cash in the district’s coffers for operations, fell from $25 million in 2004 to a deficit of $300 million in 2009. One of the first actions of then emergency manager Robert Bobb, appointed in 2009, was to require that employees personally pick up paychecks. Mr. Bobb uncovered shocking and widespread fraud, including ghost employees, 1,500 ineligible dependents on insurance, and 20 arrests for theft of equipment. After the arrests of principals, teachers, and even custodians, Mr. Bobb described DPS as having “cesspools of corruption.”

Detroit Public Schools’s operations in that regard did not improve significantly over the next six years. Between 2009 and 2014, DPS’s Office of Inspector General uncovered 671 distinct instances of fraud, waste, and abuse, roughly amounting to one every three days. The author implies that somehow it is a lack of funding that has doomed the Detroit Public Schools. Conveniently omitted is that Detroit Public Schools spent more than $15,400 per child in the 2016 fiscal year, more than virtually every other district in southeast Michigan. Yet in the last measure of performance, 47 of DPS’s 100 schools finished in the bottom 5 percent in Michigan. The bailout provided by the State generated $610 million in principal debt relief, eliminating annual debt service payments of almost $50 million per year. Yet in the first year’s budget, the budget where the slate has been “wiped clean” due to the generosity of Michigan’s taxpayers, [Detroit Public Schools Community District] DPSCD approved a budget with a $27 million operating deficit. All public schools, charter or otherwise, are expected to balance their books. After all it went through, those running DPSCD never got the message.

I hope that [the board] will use [its] substantial persuasive acumen to insure that DPSCD’s financial house gets in order. The adults—the board, the administrators, and the staff—must discontinue their past pattern and practice, and focus all effort and energy on the only actors in this tragic play who are blameless: the children.

Matthew J. Wilk, ’97
Treasurer, Northville Board of Education

I should like to take exception to the statement in the spring issue of the Law Quadrangle (p. 46) saying, “Michigan Law’s commitment to producing well-rounded, career-ready lawyers with real practice experience dates back to the launch of our first legal clinic in 1969.” Thanks to a dispensation obtained by Professor James J. White, Michigan Law students were allowed to meet with and represent clients in the courts of (at least) Washtenaw County under the supervision of a member of the Bar from 1966 on. An office was rented in downtown Ann Arbor, some miscellaneous furniture was found, a lawyer willing to supervise the students was hired, and a group of my classmates hung out a collective shingle. We talked to clients, drafted documents, and went to court.

I raise this small point because I think the Law School’s publication should not slight the young men and women who took time out from their busy schedules to volunteer at the first U-M legal clinic, helping some people who needed help, and proving that lawyers, like doctors, could learn by doing.

Pat McCauley, ’67

Editor’s Note: You are absolutely right. We should have clarified that 1969 marked the beginning of the Law School offering credit for clinical experience; however, the Legal Aid Society—a student organization—began prior to that. The description of the Legal Aid Society in the 1966 edition of  The Quad says, “…The future of Legal Aid looks bright….There has been a growing awareness of the services provided by the clinic…[and] on many occasions clients with small cases have been better served by a student whose high degree of preparedness and imaginative defenses has not been discouraged by a heavy case load…the experience to the student attorneys will prove invaluable.”

Happy Birthday, U-M.

When the University of Michigan was established in 1817, the state constitution mandated that the new school include departments of medicine; literature, science, and the arts; and law. Lack of funding—and of interest—delayed the creation of the Department of Law until 1859, and the department didn’t have its own building until 1863, when the Law Building was erected southeast of the intersection of South State Street and North University Avenue.

The original law class consisted of nearly 90 young men. The only admission requirements were that candidates be 18 years old and of good character. By comparison, the 2017 1L class of 320 is 46 percent women, has a mean age of 25, and is the highest credentialed in the Law School’s history—boasting a median LSAT of 169 and a median undergraduate GPA of 3.8.

As the Law School celebrates its affiliation with one of the world’s great universities, we also celebrate how far we’ve come—from the size, diversity, and excellence of our student body to the quarter-mile migration south to our iconic Law Quadrangle.

Learn more about U-M’s bicentennial, and read stories from the Bicentennial Heritage Project, bicentennial.umich.edu.