Professor gets up close with English legal system

By Sheila Pursglove

Legal News

He may not wear a powdered periwig or address a judge as "M'lud" on these shores, but Troy Harris, assistant professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, is well versed in English legal lore and traditions.

Harris, who teaches Contracts, International Commercial Arbitration, and Construction Law, first got an up-close and interesting view of English law when he earned a Ph.D. in Legal History from the University of Chicago. "I wrote my dissertation on the 18th century English ecclesiastical courts, which meant that I spent a lot of time at County Record offices all over England," he says.

He headed back across the pond in 2007 to earn a Diploma in International Commercial Arbitration from the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators in London--where he is now a Fellow. He is also a member of the Executive Committee of the North American Branch of the Chartered Institute.

"London's a very exciting place, not only because of its rich history, but also because it remains one of the most international cities in the world," he says. "Many former parts of the British Empire, including parts of the Middle East and Africa, continue to look to the London legal market for counsel in international arbitration matters, so London is a perfect place to study and practice international arbitration.

"The thing I enjoy most about international arbitration is the challenge of working in different cultures with lawyers from different backgrounds."

Harris never had any doubts that law would be his career. "All I ever wanted to be was a lawyer," he says. "I'm interested in 'big' questions, and the law seeks to address many of the 'big' questions in life."

A native of Lawrence, Kan., with a bachelor's degree in history and master's degree in religious studies, Harris earned his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School.

"I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of being among people who were very bright, and very competitive," he says.

After clerking for a federal district judge in Kansas City, he moved to Atlanta to work, first, for a construction litigation boutique firm and then in the construction and international arbitration practice at King & Spalding.

While practicing law in Georgia, he was an adjunct professor at Emory Law School and the Georgia Institute of Technology College of Management. He has also lectured on Legal Methods for Cornell Law School in Ithaca, N.Y.

Harris co-wrote the "International Construction Arbitration Handbook," now in its second edition, and has written chapters in such books as "International Construction Law," and "Construction Checklists: A Guide to Frequently Encountered Construction Issues," as well as several law review articles.

"Construction litigation requires an ability to deal with a wide variety of people, from unskilled laborers to Ph.D. engineers, to CEOs," he says. "I enjoy that challenge, as well as the challenge of making technical construction and engineering issues understandable to non-experts in the field."

Harris also appreciates the energy and diversity he finds among his UDM law students.

"The students range from traditional, newly-minted BAs to working moms and dads who have done other things before attending law school," he says. "We have a number of veterans and current members of the armed services, or their spouses, who bring an entirely different perspective to the international work I've done.

"UDM has a very collegial culture that extends throughout the faculty to the students and staff--I've always felt that my work was appreciated and supported."

Harris, who lives in Bloomfield Hills, enjoys spending time with his 12-year-old son, John, a sports fanatic.

"I've had to get familiar with all of his favorite teams, just to keep up with him. Fortunately, Detroit is blessed with excellent professional sports teams, and my alma mater, U of M, is doing well this year, so I've had a conducive environment in which to learn."

Published: Thu, Dec 8, 2011