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Daniel Ray
Daily Constitutional

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Constitutional law is a riveting subject, but students can struggle with it, according to Professor Daniel Ray, who teaches the subject at Cooley Law School.

 “For starters, a lot of the cases we read are old, and aren’t written in contemporary English — it can take some time getting used to 18th and 19th century prose,” he explains. “Then there’s the subject matter itself, which can be a bit challenging to wrap your brain around. Constitutional law tends to be less about legal rules, standards, and elements, and more about the process: the analyses and arguments that get us from facts to holding.”

Students often want to focus on the rules, and Ray tells them straight up: “I’ll tell you the rules. You tell me how we get to the rules.”

Ray finds his students either really like constitutional law — or really dislike it.

“Not much middle ground,” he says. “Students also tend to be more geeked about our Con Law II course, an individual rights course, than about our Con Law I course, which is a structure and sources course. In Con Law II, we get to talk about abortion, contraception, same sex marriage, assisted suicide, speech and religion — all the fun, sexy stuff. Students dig it.”

Ray first started teaching as an adjunct faculty member at his alma mater, the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School, while working as an attorney with firms in Missouri and Kansas.

“It dawned on me — quite early on, I’m proud to say — that teaching law would be a great way to make a living without having to work that hard. So I decided to give it a try, and I found out that the same skills and abilities that make for a good trial and appellate lawyer also help when standing in front of a classroom. I was hooked right away.”

All joking aside, Ray finds he puts in more hours per week, on average, than he did in private practice.

“The same is true of my colleagues. It’s just that most of it is in my office at home, working away at my computer, probably writing a book or an article. It’s doing stuff I really like doing, and would probably be doing even if Cooley wasn’t paying me — but don’t tell that to Dean LeDuc.”

Ray joined the full-time faculty at Cooley in May 2006, having previously served as a visiting professor; and working as an associate professor and program coordinator for the Legal Assistant Studies Program at Eastern Michigan University. He enjoys working at Cooley’s Ann Arbor campus.

“No other campus would have me,” he says with a smile. “Joan Vestrand, our dean, is a really nice person, and she just can’t bring herself to tell me to get lost.”

Many of Ray’s students are older, non-traditional students.

“They’ve been out in the world and lived life, so they’ve got some interesting experiences to bring to bear in the classroom,” he says. “They’re in law school because they want to be there. They want to learn about the law. They want to become better people, not just lawyers. They’re good people to know, and to hang out with.”

Ray also finds his students tend to be very involved in their communities.

“Need help with a legal project, or raising money, or getting clothes for underprivileged kids, or volunteering at a local school? Stop by any Cooley campus and ask some Cooley students — you’ll have more help than you know what to do with, right away,” he notes.

In Ray’s own student days, he earned a BBA in finance from Texas Christian University.

“I started out as a political science major, and then discovered that required two years of foreign language. Since I can barely talk coherently in English, I ruled that out,” he says. “Finance seemed like a good way to become a robber baron, and pillage and plunder my way to riches, so I signed up.”

He then earned his J.D. from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School.

“After graduating from college, it was either get a job sweeping up behind the elephants at the circus, or go to law school. In some ways, they’re quite similar. After all these years, I still don’t know if I made the right choice, but it’s too late to look back now.”

In private practice, Ray enjoyed trial work before deciding that appellate practice was a better fit.

“I enjoyed the intellectual exercise, and the challenge of it,” he says. “After a number of years, I came to the conclusion that practicing law would be a great way to make a living if it wasn’t for all the clients, with their problems and stuff. When it stopped being fun and started being a chore, I knew it was time to move on.”

A Kansas native, Ray now makes his home in South Lyon with his wife Kim — an in-house attorney at Ford Credit — and Spencer, 19, a college sophomore who seems to be leaning toward engineering, and 17-year-old Kelsey, a high school senior involved in varsity swimming and tennis, and the National Honor Society.

In his leisure time, Ray, a self-styled “nerd,” enjoys building computers and writing web pages. He has volunteered professionally, doing pro bono legal work, but one of his favorite volunteer gigs was in a hospital ER.
“I pushed patients around the floor — to X-ray or the CAT scanner, up to their rooms — ran errands, and cleaned rooms, and talked to patients. It was great, and I hope to do it again.”

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