My first contact with Michigan Law School was in Washington, D.C., where I was attending an annual recruiting conference as an aspiring new faculty member. My interview with the Michigan faculty delegation was scheduled near the end of the day, after I had been through a barrage of conversations with faculty committees from other schools, which largely ran together because of the sameness of their questions.
The Michigan interview was different: They had read articles that I had written, and they quickly launched into an intense but entertaining group discussion that cut right to the heart of the work. After I joined the faculty the following fall, I was able to participate in these conversations daily, and it became even clearer to me that Michigan Law was an intellectual environment in which I could thrive as a teacher, as a scholar, and as an attorney.
But Michigan is more than ideas and arguments. Michigan is home to people—students, alumni, faculty, administrators, staff—who support each other and want to see each other succeed. Let me offer some personal thoughts about how these people make Michigan Law School special, and why they make me excited about our present and our future.
This is a place in which faculty connect with students. At Michigan, we think it is important that our relationships not be limited by the walls of our (beautiful) buildings. Some alumni might remember me not because they took my classes, but because of my occasional involvement in the Mr. Wolverine beauty pageant, a sometimes embarrassing but always entertaining parody founded by students in the Latino Law Students Association. Or perhaps they know me for my "blue jeans lecture," my talks to the Asian Law Society, my hosting of the Classical Music Society's annual concert (at which both faculty and students perform), my stint as an auctioneer for the Student Funded Fellowships auction (an event at which my predecessor "danced"), or maybe just because they've shared a table with other students and me at Grizzly Peak or Jolly Pumpkin. These are my experiences, but they are not unique; faculty participation in student life is an important part of the Michigan Law experience, and virtually every professor and administrator has a similar list of ways they routinely interact.
This is a place at which faculty connect with each other. You can read about the stellar accomplishments of our faculty elsewhere on this website. Here I'd like to focus on a different aspect: my colleagues garden (Ann Arbor apparently has "heavy" soil), skydive, bake bread, sing karaoke, ride motorcycles, play poker, do hot yoga, play jazz piano, visit lighthouses, and curl (you know, the Olympic sport?). One of my colleagues once held a state high school basketball record in Indiana, another's life was changed by the movie Fight Club, and another has a daily diet that consists of toast (breakfast), chocolate (lunch), salad (dinner), and movie theater candy (late-night snack), which sounds a lot better than another colleague who, at the time of this writing but probably not for long, is a vegan, but only until 6 p.m. Here's why these things matter to students: If faculty members know their colleagues well enough to know who visits lighthouses, consider how easy it is for us to point a student to the colleague who can best supervise a paper on, for instance, voting rights, national security law, or patent settlements. If we know each other well enough to know who will sing "Mack the Knife" at karaoke, consider how easily we can connect students with the best faculty member to contact relevant alumni and employers. And if we know who bakes bread, and you bake bread, consider the ease with which you can form meaningful relationships with faculty.
This is a place in which much of what we do is calculated to enhance this collegiality. Our Office of Admissions puts together a cohesive and diverse class, not just an amalgam of smart people with high numbers. Our LLM graduate program for foreign lawyers is deliberately small and integrated into the JD curriculum, as we expect those students to share fully in the Michigan experience. Our spectacular buildings promote collegiality; many of our students live in the Law Quad, and the Aikens Commons is a fantastic gathering space for all of us in the community. We hold mini-seminars in professors' homes, we don't rank students until after graduation, and we make our Loan Repayment Assistance Program available to graduates in any type of practice. This ethos of support, inclusion, and authenticity connects current students and more than 20,000 alumni around the world.
Make no mistake: Our collegiality does not mean that this place is easy. This is an elite institution at which we conduct serious, meticulous research, and we expect piercing analytical rigor in the classroom and (often) in our hallway discussions. We work hard—really hard. But we do so in an atmosphere of camaraderie, as we all work toward a common goal of better understanding the law and the societies in which it functions.
This is a place in which people have sustained, thoughtful dialogue about our mission and our future. These are challenging times in legal education. I occasionally hear of institutions lurching toward quick solutions in the face of perceived crisis. At Michigan, we make considered decisions about the direction of our school. We make changes—sometimes dramatic changes—when appropriate, but we also believe that the things that historically have made us one of the world's great centers of legal education will continue to do so.
I spend a lot of time in the Law Quad, but this is a place in which life outside of the Quad is good. Ann Arbor is a wonderful city in which to attend law school. It offers the large-university experience, of course; I get excited in mid-August when I start to hear the marching band's drumline begin practicing, I enjoy watching the seasons change, and I have to admit I think it's cool that the basketball team that was one win away from being national champions gets burritos at the same place I often do. Outside of the University, I can walk to one of the best delis in the world, Portlandia-esque bookstores, and a wide variety of tattoo parlors (I don't stop). And Ann Arbor is 30 minutes away from a nonstop flight to Tokyo or Amsterdam, which means both that I can easily connect with alumni and friends of the school around the world and that we can bring in world-class visitors who enhance and showcase the global nature of the institution.
It should be clear that I love this place. But there is nothing in my background that makes Michigan look like an obvious destination for me. Before I began teaching at Michigan, I spent most of my adult life in New York and Tokyo, and most of my childhood in south Louisiana and Nashville. Until I interviewed for a teaching position, I knew no one in Ann Arbor and had never visited. Michigan Law is an extraordinary institution that attracts transplants like me and facilitates lifelong connections with others who share my excitement.
I encourage you to explore our website to learn more about us. But the virtual tour pales next to the real thing: I hope to see you on campus soon.
Mark D. West