We’ve had a proud heritage and educated a wonderful array of graduates.
John F. Schaefer, ’69
Schaefer is the 2012 recipient of the Distiguished Alumni Award. This prestigious and longstanding award was established to recognize outstanding alumni of DCL and MSU Law who meet rigorous criteria. Schaefer was selected by the MSU College of Law Alumni Association Board because of his outstanding personal service to the College as a Board of Trustee Emeritus and adjunct professor, career in the legal profession, and his philanthropic support of his alma mater.
John F. Schaefer, ’69, knows the importance of superb teaching and mentoring. He earned his law degree in 1969 from the Detroit College of Law (DCL), now MSU College of Law. Soon after, he became an adjunct professor in Family Law and taught for 30 years. Initially, he planned to practice business litigation, but joined the law firm of Frederick G. Buesser Jr., who handled high-profile divorce cases and was a stellar mentor.
After about six years of working with wealthy clients in complex divorce matters, Schaefer had an “ah-ha” moment. He realized that his desire to practice business litigation no longer was relevant. His area of focus had found him: matrimonial law.
Schaefer is tops in his field. Worth Magazine has listed him as one of the “Top 100 Attorneys in the Country” for several years in a round, and he has been listed in Best Lawyers in America for 25 years. He founded the Law Firm of John F. Schaefer in 1996. He has represented the former wives of Lee Iacocca (Peggy and Darrien), members of the Ford family, Bob Lutz, Jennifer Nasser, and Katina Dart. The Dart divorce featured a staggering billion-dollar case that spanned the United States and Britain.
Based in Michigan, with law offices in Grosse Pointe Farms and Birmingham, Schaefer has represented his clients in nine other state courts. He credits his education at DCL with his being able to judiciously represent clients in court and also keep them out of court. He has given emotional support to clients during tumultuous times as they severed ties with 30-, 40-, and 50- year marriages. Yet, he has also helped save marriages.
He is the proud father of four adult children. His daughter, Kimberly Schaefer, is a 2008 graduate of the MSU College of Law and now works at his law firm.
Schaefer served as trustee at DCL for more than 10 years and at MSU College of Law when the university and Law College affiliated in 1995. He is now a Trustee Emeritus. He was involved in the operation of DCL, its affiliation talks with other universities, and its move to East Lansing.
“We’ve had a proud heritage. Some have called DCL a streetcar law school, but it has educated a wonderful array of graduates who have distinguished themselves mightily as lawyers and judges.
“It was a difficult transition to go from being a free-standing university in Detroit and one of the oldest independent law schools in the country (since 1891) to assimilating that identity with another institution. The affiliation has worked out enormously well.”
Schaefer recently made an extraordinarily generous $6 million gift through an innovative charitable remainder unitrust to name the MSU College of Law Library and endow a chair in matrimonial law. The John F. Schaefer Law Library was dedicated on November 4, 2010. When his gift matures, it will ensure that his desire to elevate the matrimonial law program continues at the Law College and grows for years to come.
A version of this profile originally appeared in the spring 2009 issue of Amicus, published by the MSU College of Law.