Spartan Lawyer Summer 2018

Spartan Lawyers

Michigan State University College of Law’s story began in 1891, nearly a decade before the invention of the Ford Model T. In the heart of the soon-to-be Motor City, a dedicated group of Detroiters decided to build something: a law college that would serve their community.

The law college quickly attracted some of the city’s most ardent civil servants. Its first class included a future circuit court judge and a future ambassador. The law college set an exceptionally inclusive admissions policy, where it welcomed “all classes, without regard to sex, color, or citizenship.” Many of the law college’s students worked through the day and studied by night, balancing their jobs, their family responsibilities, and their schoolwork. As they entered the workforce, our graduates earned reputations as tireless workers and skilled legal practitioners.

The law college grew alongside Detroit, shaping the lives of both its students and its city. In 1995, the City condemned the law college’s Detroit campus to make way for Comerica Park. If the law college wished to continue its historic mission, it needed a new home.

Michigan State University welcomed the law college to East Lansing, dedicating its new building in 1997. The new facility incorporated beloved architectural elements salvaged from the Detroit building. Every MSU Law 1L still walks past the same bas-reliefs of historic lawgivers that generations of Detroit-era graduates experienced.


The move to MSU’s campus significantly expanded the law college’s reach. Rather than strictly being a local institution for southeastern Michiganders, the school currently attracts around half of its students from out of state. The Class of 2018 will sit for bar exams in 29 different states, starting legal careers in communities across the country and all over the world.

But our alumni are still drawn to live and practice in Detroit; after all, the law college was in Detroit for more than a century. With such a rich history and a dedicated alumni community in the city, there was no way that Detroit would simply become a footnote in MSU Law’s past.

Today, thousands of MSU Law graduates live and work in the city where it all began. Some grew up there, and returned with their educations as acts of gratitude to their hometown. Others are attracted to the city’s culture of hard work and innovation.

In this magazine, we’re proud to feature just a few of the MSU Law grads who are shaping today’s Motor City. They spend their days running their own neighborhood businesses, empowering economic growth in their communities, preserving Detroit’s landscape, and inspiring other local kids to pursue higher education. None of these alumni attended the law college in our Detroit era, but their careers celebrate our unique legacy.

Of our nearly 12,000 living alumni, around 5,000 call the metro Detroit area home.


Dennis Archer, ’70: Mayor of Detroit, Michigan Supreme Court Justice, first African American to serve as president of the American Bar Association

Ella Bully-Cummings, ’98: First woman to serve as chief of police for the City of Detroit

Lucile A. Watts, ’67: First African American woman to be elected as a circuit court judge in Michigan Of our nearly 12,000 living alumni, around 5,000 call the metro Detroit area home.

Know other Detroit standouts?
Share their stories with us!