Detroit Mercy Law professor a natural for the 'dual-degree'


By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Catherine Archibald has had an international flavor to her life from the start. Born in Brussels, Belgium, she grew up in England, and as a child immigrated to the United States where her family settled in New Rochelle, N.Y.
“And my grandfather was a mixed-race man from Trinidad who married my English grandmother, which was quite scandalous in their time,” she says.

This eclectic background led to Archibald’s long time interest in international matters – drawing her to an undergrad study abroad in Scotland, a joint Canadian-U.S. dual degree program run by Michigan State University College of Law and the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, and to her current position as an assistant professor at Detroit Mercy Law where she teaches in the Canadian-U.S. dual degree program that teams with the University of Windsor Faculty of Law. After graduation, students choose which of the two countries they would like to take the bar in, and practice law.

“This is an amazing program where students earn two law degrees – from a Canadian law school, and a U.S. law school – in the same amount of time, three years, that it takes to earn one law degree,” she explains. “The international and comparative law perspective that students gain from the program is invaluable in an increasingly global and international world, and gives them an edge wherever they choose to practice.” 

In Archibald’s Comparative Legal Writing and Research class, students learn legal research and writing in two different legal systems.

“Students are fascinated when they compare and contrast the law and legal customs of the U.S. and Canada,” she says. “The best thing about teaching my students is their enthusiasm and fresh energy. I enjoy giving them problems to work on and then seeing them come up with ideas I have not thought of myself.

“I love the congeniality of the faculty, staff, and students here – Detroit Mercy Law is a place of learning, service, and helping each other and the wider community succeed.”

After graduating from Princeton University with a degree in ecology and evolutionary biology, Archibald worked in Belize, Central America, with a nonprofit organization started by Princeton students.

“My job was to lead Princeton undergraduate students in volunteer projects in a remote village,” she says.

She also started a scholarship project to help students attend high school; and helped families in need obtain family planning education.

Archibald was attracted to the field of law in order to understand how society’s rules work, and how people can change and improve those rules.

“As a young person, I saw many injustices in our world and I wanted to better understand why they exist and what could be done to change them,” she says. “I also wanted to have a voice in the legal world.”

She thoroughly enjoyed her time at MSU Law, and the many different opportunities there, including a summer externship program in Ottawa that led to her interest and participation in the MSU-Ottawa dual degree program.
“The professors were excellent and some of my fellow students became long-lasting friends,” she says.

Archibald also enjoyed studying and living in Canada’s capital city.

“It’s a beautiful city that celebrates the long winters in an amazing way – people embrace the winter, and turn it into a celebration by bundling up and then ice-skating, skiing, and snow-shoeing outside.”

During her days as a law student, she clerked for the Hon. David W. McKeague at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and for the Regional Senior Justice at the Ontario Court of Justice.

After earning her law degrees, Archibald spent several years as a litigation associate at the international law firm of Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP in New York City.

“Litigation is what law school most prepares law students to do,” she says. “We spend three years reading judges’ decisions, and it’s an exciting prospect to be a litigator and to try to influence and shape judges’ decisions that may one day be part of a law student’s textbook.

“Working for a big law firm in NYC was intense, an all-consuming endeavor,” she adds. “I honed my legal skills and became a good lawyer. I worked with dedicated and hard-working people. I had the opportunity to work on many different types of legal matters, including a number of pro bono cases.”

At Dewey & LeBoeuf, she worked on a variety of matters including white-collar criminal investigations and insurance litigation, and pro bono immigration, family, and housing law cases, and won awards from both the law firm and The Legal Aid Society.

“Pro bono work is incredibly rewarding. Providing people who need legal services with legal services even when they cannot afford them is the right thing to do. Additionally, at big firms, junior attorneys have opportunities when they work on pro bono matters that they may not have when they work on paid matters – they are more likely to have the opportunity to be the lead authors of briefs, to argue in court, and to be the first line of contact for a client and to lead client interviews.”

Archibald’s scholarship focuses on international and environmental law, and gender and sexuality law, and her work has been cited in many of the best known law reviews, including the Yale Journal of International Law, the Harvard Law & Policy Review, and the Columbia Journal of Gender & Law.

“I was drawn to environmental law because I’ve always loved and appreciated nature and the outdoors, and I’m quite alarmed by the incredible ongoing environmental destruction of our planet,” she says. “I wanted to understand and influence the effects of law on the environment.

“I was drawn to gender and sexuality law because from a young age society’s different expectations and rules for men and women disturbed me and struck me as unfair.”

Archibald makes her home in Ann Arbor, where several of her law school friends live, and where her 4-year-old twins keep her on her toes. In her leisure time, she enjoys walking, running, biking, swimming, and playing the piano.

Archibald enjoys working in the Motor City.

“It’s exciting to be in Detroit right now – there’s a feeling here of experimentation, change, and hopefulness,” she says.