Get to Know Heather Dunbar


An assistant professor at WMU-Cooley Law School, Heather Dunbar is a native Michigander who grew up in West Branch. A resident of Waterford, Dunbar graduated in 1992 from James Madison College at Michigan State University, majoring in Justice, Morality, and Constitutional Democracy.

After graduating, Dunbar ran a 12-screen movie theatre. She took six years off before attending Cooley Law School; and continued to run the theatre for the first two years of law school. After earning her law degree from Cooley in 2001, Dunbar was a law clerk for Judge Louise Alderson in 54-A District Court in Lansing, then worked briefly with a firm that focused on misdemeanor defense, landlord-tenant, and small civil cases, before opening a solo practice, focusing on criminal defense, estate planning, and contract drafting. 

Throughout her years of practice, Dunbar also was an adjunct professor at Cooley Law, teaching Introduction to Law and Pretrial Skills.

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

What would surprise people about your job? The amount of hours it takes to prepare to teach. People seem to think teachers just walk into class and speak off the cuff and go home.

Why did you become a lawyer? It was the only subject or occupation that continually interested me in all aspects and that I knew would always challenge me in different ways. I love word games, and the law is the ultimate, never-ending word game.

What’s your favorite law-related book? “The Federalist Papers.” I fell in love with it during my undergraduate studies, and it still thrills me to read and think about how our government was built.

Who are your law role models?  My grandpa was a small-town, Atticus Finch-type lawyer before he became a judge. My mom was county prosecutor from when I was 9 until I was 21. They epitomize for me what real lawyering is about.

If you could trade places with someone for a day, who would that be? Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

What advice do you have for someone considering law school?
Start reading articles and books that will challenge you with their difficulty level. Building strong reading and analytical thinking skills, even if not centered on law, will be a worthwhile investment in increasing vocabulary and understanding how persuasive arguments are made.

What’s your proudest moment as a lawyer?
Getting a complete dismissal of charges for a client who was truly innocent of charges brought against him. In teaching, my proudest moment is seeing students with whom I’ve worked to improve skills go on to pass the bar and become practicing attorneys. I like knowing I helped in at least a slight way with getting them to their goal.

What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
I certainly hope it’s yet to come. But passing the bar exam on the multiple-choice score alone on the first try was an unexpected (but happy) accomplishment.    

What do you do to relax? Read books, play pool, and meet up with friends for conversation and board games.

What other career path might you have chosen? I’m intrigued with forensic profiling like in the FBI Behavioural Analysis Unit (though I’m not sure I have the aptitude for that work).

What would you say to your 16-year-old self?
  Don’t worry so much about what other kids are thinking. Have confidence in yourself and what you believe in.

Favorite websites?,, and

Favorite app?  Something to do with logic games.

What is your most treasured material possession?  My great-great-grandfather’s oak roll-top desk from his law office, handed down through my great-grandfather, grandfather, and mother, to me.

What do you wish someone would invent? If I were creative enough to answer this question, I’d probably work on inventing the item and patenting it.

What has been your favorite year so far and why?  2006, when I started working full-time with the Academic Resource Center at Cooley Law School and realized I’d found the job that I was meant to do and that I would love for the rest of my time.   

What’s the most awe-inspiring place you’ve ever been? Either Westminster Abbey, because I love the combination of religious and secular pieces within the building, or Mount Rushmore, because it’s an amazing feat of architecture.

If you could have one super power, what would it be?  Invisibility.

What’s one thing you would like to learn to do? 
Become a pool shark and hustle unsuspecting people in dive bars.

What is something most people don’t know about you?
That I helped build our house (along with my mom, dad, brother, and a master carpenter) during the summer I turned 11.  We didn’t have the funds to have the house built.  My brother and I put the entire first floor in one board at a time as my dad and the carpenter measured and cut the boards. 

If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead, who would they be?  Authors Christopher Moore, Mark Twain, and Stephen King.

What’s the best advice you ever received?
When life wasn’t going right, my grandma always said, “This too shall pass.”

Favorite place to spend money?  A bookstore.

What is your motto?
I like Yoda’s statement:  “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” 

Which living person do you most admire?  However clichéd, I’d say my mom.