Michigan Law School dean delivers welcome address

By John Masson

Michigan Law Communications

The anticipation was palpable as the incoming class of Michigan Law 1Ls gathered in Honigman Auditorium last week for a formal welcome into the community they'll share for the next three years.

Dean Evan Caminker spoke to the students about the journey they're embarking on and the bonds that are destined to form over the course of their Law School careers.

''First, look around you,'' Caminker urged the new students. ''There is a great deal of brilliance and talent and energy in this room.... You will meet some classmates who will become your best friends, for a relationship that will last your entire life.''

He added that Michigan Law is the type of environment where those classmates account for much of the learning. That's why the school's close attention to achieving real diversity of background and experience among incoming students is so important.

''Michigan is famous for its special atmosphere, with an emphasis on collegiality and collaboration,'' Caminker said.

Caminker also pressed the new students to get involved in activities they find challenging--not just activities they're already good at. If you're good at writing but find public speaking a challenge, think about stretching yourself with moot court. If you're good at thinking on your feet but your writing could use a little work, take a look at honing your skills on one of the publications.

That's the kind of approach, Caminker said, that Michigan Law has taken ever since the first Michigan Law dean, State Supreme Court Justice James Campbell, told incoming students that the newfangled idea of going to law school would help them avoid the ''mortifying mistakes and painful exposures'' for which the traditional apprenticeship route was so well known.

''Because we're a supportive rather than a cutthroat environment, you should feel comfortable sticking your neck out and trying out your ideas on your classmates and teachers,'' he said. ''One great way to learn is through trial and error, but better to learn here, among friends and mentors, than to make your 'mortifying mistakes' during your first court appearance or billion-dollar deal.''

The journey through law school, Caminker concluded, is certainly a challenge. It's meant to be. It's just that rising to that challenge at Michigan tends to be a much more pleasant experience than it is at other top law schools.

''And if you're like most of the 20,000 living alumni that preceded you here,'' Dean Caminker said, ''you'll also have fun doing it.''

The address was a poignant moment for Caminker. After two five-year terms as dean, Caminker, in accordance with University of Michigan policy, is stepping down as dean next summer. Although he's staying on as a professor, this crop of new students is the last he'll welcome in his current role.

Senior Assistant Dean for Admissions Sarah Zearfoss mentioned the point in her introduction.

''In his near decade as dean, he has done a couple of little things,'' Zearfoss said, tongue in cheek. Not the least of those ''little things,'' she added, was overseeing ''the expansion of the physical facility of what is generally acknowledged to be the best-looking law school in the country--and doing so, no less, in a way that has resulted in zero complaints from a bunch of lawyers.''

Dedication for one of the resulting buildings--South Hall, the Law School's new academic building--is set for Sept. 7, and will include a visit by Associate Justice Elena Kagan of the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the end, Caminker said, the buildings are only there to facilitate the interactions between the people who make up the Michigan Law community.

''My colleagues, while renowned scholars, care deeply about teaching and mentoring,'' Caminker said. ''But we know that much of the learning you will do will take place outside of the classroom ... And that's where diversity really becomes a special feature of the Michigan Law experience. Take advantage of the brilliance and insight around you by sharing your ideas, subjecting them to scrutiny, and engaging with the ideas of others.''

Published: Thu, Sep 6, 2012