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Aug. 19 marked the reopening of The Lawyers Club and Charles T. Munger Residences following a total interior renovation.

21st-Century Residence Opens Within Gothic Walls of Lawyers Club

By Jenny Whalen
August 21, 2013

To paraphrase a well-known adage: Don't judge a building by its façade.

At first glance, the Lawyers Club remains a celebrated example of the University of Michigan Law School's Collegiate Gothic style, but following a total interior renovation, made possible in large part by a $20 million gift from Charles T. Munger, HLLD '10, the structure has been transformed into a 21st-century living space.

"Today marks a beginning and an end," said Dean Evan Caminker of the grand reopening celebration Aug. 19. "It is the end to a long, long process of updating and upgrading the Law Quadrangle. … It is fitting that we end the facility renewal process right here at the Lawyers Club where it began some 90 years ago."

After all, Caminker added, it was due to the support of another visionary that the Law Quad was built. Recognizing the merit of a community where students both live and learn, 1882 Michigan Law graduate William W. Cook funded construction of the entire collection of Law Quad buildings, starting with the Lawyers Club and Dormitory in 1923.

For decades, thousands of Michigan Law students have called the Lawyers Club home, but with the passage of time also came the realization that Cook's state-of-the-art facility was no longer meeting the needs of modern students.

"I've watched students move in year after year and clearly the definition of 'sufficient closet space' has changed over time," Caminker joked. On a more somber note, he spoke of the "burden of 90-year-old infrastructure" that meant the Lawyers Club would either have to be rebuilt or condemned.

And so Munger's gift, along with matched funds from the central university's investment proceeds and the Lawyers Club—which is run by a separately incorporated, self-sustaining non-profit organization—made possible a total interior renovation that resulted in the construction of a new Lawyers Club within the original.

The Lawyers Club and Charles T. Munger Residences now offer 227 fully furnished private rooms, complete with private or semi-private bathrooms, and 11 corridor lounges, known as Club Rooms, which provide space for study groups or social gatherings.

For rising 3L Lauren Rivard, who resided in the Lawyers Club as a 1L, the renovation is both awe-inspiring and enviable.

The Lawyers Club is the cornerstone of Law School community, with the renovations enhancing not just the creature comforts of the structure, but its spirit and the spirit of the Law School at large, Rivard said.

"I'm glad to see my little room's transformation," she added, referring to the conversion of her old dorm into a Club Room. "On behalf of the students, thank you."

Although Munger has yet to see the finished product, Caminker said his presence, like that of his predecessor Cook, can be felt in the details, all of which contribute to the support of a place where the study of law is enriched by the surrounding community.

"Charlie Munger is passionate about improving the quality of life for students on this campus," said Andrea Fischer Newman, chair of the U-M Board of Regents. "He believed that was key to their success. The opportunity to live in a phenomenal facility will enhance recruitment and retention at Michigan. I congratulate the Law School and Dean Caminker on this achievement."

(View photos from the celebration.)

Renovations include:

  • A total of 227 fully furnished private rooms, and private or semi-private bathrooms. The living arrangements include all utilities, high-speed wireless Internet access, and 12 meals per week, served in the beautiful and historic dining hall.

  • Each of the student rooms comes furnished with an extra-long, full-size bed and mattress (designed to accommodate under-bed storage), a nightstand, a desk, a rolling desk chair and a guest side chair, a microwave,
 a small refrigerator with freezer compartment, built-in overhead lighting, full-privacy window treatments, wood-grained tile flooring, a card-operated door lock, individual heating and cooling control, and smoke-detection and fire-suppression systems.

  • Each modular ensuite bathroom was completed offsite and brought into the structure. The efficient bathrooms feature fine tile and marble finishes. Medicine cabinets, vanities, storage cabinets, towel bars, and robe hooks are standard in all bathrooms.

  • Eleven corridor lounges, known as Club Rooms, are new to the Lawyers Club. Designed to foster community and camaraderie, the Club Rooms are ideal settings for study groups, social gatherings, and student organization meetings. Many include kitchenettes and flat-screen televisions with full audiovisual capabilities, making them as useful for group class assignments as they are for watching Big House football.

  • Some of the unseen elements of the renovation include new plumbing, heating, and ventilation; installation of a wireless high-speed network and swipe-card entry controls; repair of the historic windows; and improvements to safety and accessibility.

  • Preserving the Lawyers Club's majestic Collegiate Gothic façade was a priority in the renovation, made more difficult because, in essence, an entirely new building was erected behind the original walls. The interior demolition—completed with painstaking care so as not to damage the exterior walls—took six full months to complete. New interior architectural flourishes—like nine-panel oak doors, ogee molding, hand-wrought iron railings, and salvaged ventilation grates—nod to the building's past.

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