By Kristy DemasMay 16, 2019
The State Bar of Michigan recently announced the winners of its annual awards. Michigan Law's Suellyn Scarnecchia, '81, was chosen to receive this year's John W. Reed Michigan Lawyer Legacy Award, which goes to "an educator whose influence on lawyers has elevated the quality of legal practice in our state."
Scarnecchia was delighted by the honor, which was named after Reed, a preeminent scholar and teacher and Michigan Law's Thomas M. Cooley Professor of Law Emeritus. "It is a lovely surprise to receive this award. As I retire from the Law School, I am truly honored to be associated with Professor John Reed in this way. I am also grateful for the many talented colleagues and students who have helped me. What a privilege it has been to belong to both the Michigan Law and Michigan State Bar communities throughout my career."
In announcing the award to the Michigan Law community, Dean Mark West took a line from Professor Elizabeth Campbell's nomination of Scarnecchia, noting that she "leads with humility, motivates excellence, and is admired by her colleagues, superiors, and students."
Scarnecchia's approachable and humble demeanor belies a varied and successful career trajectory that began in the private sector when she was an attorney (and later partner) with McCroskey, Cochrane & Brock PC in Battle Creek, Michigan. In 1987, she began her first stint at Michigan Law—a 16-year tenure during which she was associate dean for clinical affairs and a clinical professor of law in the Child Advocacy Law Clinic, teaching additional courses on access to justice, negotiation, and child abuse and neglect. She left U-M to join the University of New Mexico School of Law, becoming its first woman dean in 2003.
After returning to Ann Arbor, Scarnecchia served as U-M's vice president and general counsel from 2008 to 2012. She joined Michigan Law full-time in 2012 as a clinical professor in the Human Trafficking Clinic. In 2017, she introduced a new Law School course called Promoting Social Justice Through Intergroup Dialogue. In addition, she chaired the Educational Environment Committee and led the Law School's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategic plan implementation. She currently serves on the Board of the Michigan Advocacy Program, a nonprofit organization that provides legal services to the poor. She will retire from Michigan Law at the conclusion of the 2018-2019 academic year.
Campbell, '11, said her admiration for Scarnecchia inspired her and her colleagues to nominate her for the award. "I have had the pleasure of teaching with Suellyn for the last six years and have seen her remarkable devotion to individual students and the Law School," she said. "She inspires the development of each student by engaging with their strengths and confronting their weaknesses. As my mentor, she has shown me the power of being kind and compassionate with students while maintaining the highest standards of excellence. I am ecstatic that she has been recognized by the State Bar, as there is certainly no one more deserving of this award."
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