State Senator Gretchen Whitmer, one of Michigan’s leading politicians, credits her MSU College of Law education with preparing her for a career in public service.
“When you start law school, everyone tells you they’re going to train you to think like a lawyer,” she says. “You don’t even know what that means until you get out in the world and see how you’ve changed. It’s looking at an issue and anticipating both sides of the policy. It’s a really important skill that you only get through legal training.”
Whitmer, who has a bachelor’s degree in communications, wasn’t always sure law school was the right path for her. She was debating between careers in broadcasting and law when her father, an attorney, suggested she speak with Michigan State University’s dean of advertising; he encouraged her to study law, telling her she would be that much more attractive in the communications job market if she still wanted to join the field.
She enrolled at the Law College, and “for the first time ever, my field of study clicked,” Whitmer says. “I just loved law school. The professors were really invested in challenging you, but also in helping you succeed.”
Whitmer served on the Michigan State Law Review and took advantage of MSU Law’s proximity to the state capital to work as an intern with the co-speaker of the House of Representatives; the experience sparked her interest in politics.
After graduating magna cum laude in 1998, she did administrative law work in Dickinson Wright’s Lansing office for two years, then ran for state representative. She served five and a half years in the House, then won a special election for state senator in 2006.
The senator comes by her love of the law and commitment to public service honestly: Her aunt was a judge, her uncle was a prosecutor, her mother was an assistant attorney general, and her father was president and chief executive officer of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
“They told me that a law degree opens so many doors,” she says. “That legal training gives you the ability to open up doors and have flexibility, which is very important in personal happiness.”