MSU College of Law remembers Frank J. Kelley



The Michigan State University College of Law community joins representatives of the Michigan legal profession in recognizing the many achievements of former state attorney general Frank J. Kelley, who died on March 7 at the age of 96.

Mr. Kelley holds the record for longest continuous tenure as a state attorney general in US history: 37 years. He was both Michigan’s youngest-ever state attorney general and, eventually, its oldest.

Mr. Kelley served under five different governors (Republicans and Democrats), transforming the role of the attorney general from a relatively narrowly defined functionary to “the people’s lawyer,” as he became known.

 During Mr. Kelley’s tenure, the attorney general’s office created Environmental, Consumer Protection, and Criminal Fraud Divisions – all staples in most offices of the attorney general today.

Mr. Kelley’s impact was deeply felt throughout the legal profession in Michigan, extending into the MSU Law community. The College of Law bestowed an honorary degree upon him in 1990 and founded the Frank J. Kelley Institute of Ethics and the Legal Profession in his honor in 2009. The Kelley Institute, which will continue in perpetuity, was endowed by Frank Kelley, his many friends and admirers, and College of Law alumni.

The Kelley Institute brings a leading legal thinker to the Law College every year to offer a public lecture, teach students, and engage with faculty. From exploring emerging legal technologies to discussing the changing role of attorneys general, these high-impact speakers encourage soon-to-be lawyers to ground their future legal practice in ethics.

Associate Clinical Professor and Rental Housing Clinic Director Brian Gilmore is the current director of the Kelley Institute, and he reflected on the example set by Mr. Kelley for young lawyers.

“At a time when the importance of public service is constantly being questioned by some, Frank J. Kelley’s life and work is an example to be upheld today and forever as a model of excellence for all public servants,” said Professor Gilmore. “The Frank J. Kelley Institute, created and named in his honor, will work tirelessly always to advance the values Mr. Kelley actually lived and worked for throughout his life and legal career.”

“It is difficult to overstate Mr. Kelley’s impact on Michigan’s legal profession through his distinguished leadership and exceptional service,” said Melanie B. Jacobs, interim dean of MSU Law. “Just as he personally shaped the careers of many young lawyers over the decades, the Kelley Institute will continue to inspire students to follow in his footsteps as lawyers and leaders.”

It was Mr. Kelley’s custom to attend the yearly lectures and offer his warm advice and encouragement to College of Law students. He celebrated his 90th birthday with the MSU Law community in 2014, sharing with students, faculty, and dignitaries the things that sustained him through a long, demanding career: an abiding love of the law, a commitment to fitness and sports, and the support that he found in his marriage.

“Work hard, wish for luck, and be grateful for the things in your life,” Mr. Kelley said. “I know I am very, very blessed.”


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