Michigan State University College of Law completes full integration with MSU

As a new class of future Spartan lawyers begins its first week of law school, the Michigan State University College of Law also starts a new chapter in its 129-year history by completing its full integration into Michigan State University on August 17, 2020.

Prior to the integration, the College of Law had retained its private, financially independent status since starting instruction on MSU’s campus in 1997, though the two institutions grew progressively close over the years. College of Law and MSU leadership committed to the integration in 2018 with the unanimous support of both schools’ governing Boards of Trustees and work began toward full financial, legal and administrative integration. College of Law faculty and staff became MSU employees on Jan. 1, 2020, and the College of Law’s Board of Trustees was dissolved on August 17.

The College of Law’s financial reserves were absorbed by the university, and moving forward, operations will be financed in a manner consistent with all other constituent colleges at Michigan State University.

“This is an exciting and essential next step in the history of our storied law college,” commented Donald Nystrom, who served as chair of the MSU Law Board of Trustees throughout the integration process.

“From its inception, the Detroit College of Law played a critical role in providing a grassroots legal education that became the largest feeder for judges in the State of Michigan. Now, after a multi-layer evolution, the Michigan State College of Law formally takes its place as a Big Ten law school, and this couldn’t have been done without the tremendous support of Michigan State University, our faculty, students, alums and our Board of Trustees.”

Taking the final steps towards full integration benefits both the College of Law and the greater MSU community: MSU’s world-class research standing provides College of Law students and faculty with new environments in which to advance legal knowledge, and MSU enhances its research through close connections with highly respected College of Law faculty.

Melanie B. Jacobs, interim dean of MSU College of Law, also sees potential for expanding the school’s reputation and impact. “With this new relationship, we have fabulous opportunities before us to not only expand on our own unique strengths, but to strategically align ourselves with the many strengths of Michigan State University,” said Dean Jacobs.
“I believe that the College of Law will seize these opportunities in the coming years.”

“This will expand the educational benefits readily available to all of our students and allow us to more easily create new opportunities across programs with the new areas of study,” said Thomas Jeitschko, dean of the Graduate School and associate provost for graduate education, who was charged with leading this integration.

“This will also enhance our abilities to more closely collaborate in our research and outreach missions.”

Building on Strengths

The College of Law plans to expand its impact by advancing its core areas of programmatic strength. Full integration will enable these efforts, encouraging close collaborations between scholars from various disciplines. These relationships can add legal depth of knowledge to the work of MSU researchers and enhance MSU College of Law faculty members’ scholarship by engaging outside areas of expertise.

SOCIAL JUSTICE: With nationally recognized programs in immigration law, civil rights, environmental law, indigenous law and more, the College of Law prepares future leaders to solve problems in their communities. The acclaimed Indigenous Law and Policy Center educates lawyers to advocate for Native people and tribes, one of only a few such programs in the United States.

INNOVATION: From providing experiential learning to entrepreneur-lawyers in the Center for Law, Technology, and Innovation to streamlining legal practice through new technology to protecting groundbreaking intellectual property discoveries, the College of Law is looking toward the future and how it can support (and prepare) tomorrow’s innovators.

BUSINESS & REGULATORY LAW: Expert faculty members guide students through ever-changing business landscapes, leading to careers in business, compliance and regulatory law. Students can further leverage MSU’s strengths by earning dual JD-MBA degrees through the College of Law’s partnership with the top-ranked Eli Broad College of Business.

Sharing the Land-Grant Mission

The College of Law’s focus on preparing lawyers as leaders provides an example of the potential for synergies between the College of Law and Michigan State University. MSU, as the nation’s original land-grant college, places a premium on applied knowledge and its application for the benefit of the larger community, an ethos that has long been embraced at the College of Law.

Through practical leadership training, MSU College of Law students are prepared for powerful careers in government, business and the judiciary. Graduates have included a Michigan governor, state representatives, circuit court judges, Michigan Supreme Court justices, mayors and leaders in a wide range of industries. Today, the Michigan Leadership Initiative seeks to uphold this legacy by bringing in a select cohort of MSU Law students each year to undertake three years of hands-on leadership training.

“Never has the impact of strong, service-oriented leadership been felt more keenly,” said Dean Jacobs. “I’m proud that our alumni are making a difference in their communities with their legal educations, and I know that our closer relationship with Michigan State will allow our reach to extend even further.”

MSU College of Law’s emphasis on experiential education also reflects MSU’s commitment to improving the lives of the people of Michigan by providing legal representation to community members who would otherwise be unable to afford it.

Today, Indigenous Native children remain with their tribes, refugees from global humanitarian crises are legal residents, and prison inmates can practice their religious beliefs because of interventions by the¬¬ students and faculty members who work in MSU Law’s clinics. By undertaking this challenging and meaningful work, College of Law students also gain valuable preparation for careers as skilled, compassionate advocates.

A Meaningful Legacy

From its 1891 origins as a beloved local institution to its current incarnation as a Big Ten law school, Dean Jacobs hopes to see the College of Law continue to transform over the coming decades. Integration will, she believes, enhance its reputation as a national leader in legal education and attract highly qualified students and faculty, magnifying the impact of the College of Law.

“Our work towards integration over these past months will benefit generations of Spartan lawyers,” said Dean Jacobs, “as well as the communities that they will serve and lead.”