No better place to build bridges

 Jennifer Henderson


When I was younger, I used to love going over to Windsor with my dad to visit my grandfather. We would take the tunnel, drive down Riverside Drive, and on the way back, pick up some salt and vinegar potato chips for the ride home (this is before they were widely available in the United States). Little did I know how foreshadowing these trips would be, that decades later I would make that same drive through the tunnel twice a week to oversee a program as unique as the Ambassador Bridge is blue. 
Living and working in a border city, it is easy to take for granted the cultural riches and experiences that may lie on the other side of the river. I am not referring to just art, music, or sports. What would it take to get a true sense of the educational and legal cultures of both countries? How valuable would that be in the context of legal education? Three of my colleagues answered that question in a recently published article in the Michigan Bar Journal about the globalization of legal education (Moore et al., “The Globalization of Legal Education,” MBJ, Vol. 92, No. 11, November 2013, pages 40-42). Their piece gave us in the legal community a broad overview of how a global influence can and should impact a law school’s curriculum and educational direction. 

Picking up where they left off, the Dual J.D. Program at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and the University of Windsor Faculty of Law gives students the opportunity to embrace both U.S. and Canadian culture, from a legal and educational standpoint and more. The students are taught U.S. and Canadian law simultaneously, and earn both law degrees in only three years. Nowhere else can a student physically attend classes in two different countries on the same day. One benefit or result of this unique opportunity is the creation of lawyers who can think and act like a different type of lawyer, a lawyer who can truly think transnationally. 

In other words, and as so aptly put by one of our Advisory Board members, this distinctive educational experience allows the lawyer to be the translator. Of course, as lawyers, we sometimes have to translate the import of a legal proceeding to a client. But students who graduate from the Dual JD Program can be translators on a different level. And, in a time where right-sizing and client services are driving the industry, this attribute is more important than ever. Let’s look at a specific, and very real, example. A nurse from Windsor marries a doctor from Detroit. After having children and being married for a while, they divorce. The nurse now lives in Windsor and the doctor in Michigan, and they have joint custody of their children. Which court enforces the custody and divorce order? How would you as the lawyer explain that? 

This is where Dual JD Program graduates not only stand out, but excel. From the client’s perspective, it would be cost-effective and more productive to have just one lawyer who understood the proceedings in both jurisdictions, who could translate the pleadings and orders to the client in a meaningful way. And when you have earned degrees in both jurisdictions, you are better able to that. 

The long-standing partnership between the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and the University of Windsor Faculty of Law can be a model for other law schools and other dual degree programs, at least in the context of a comparative curriculum. No other schools can duplicate the geographic advantage we have here in Detroit. The emergence of technology and the availability of distance learning, while valuable, is no substitute for the opportunity to immerse oneself physically and intellectually in the culture of another country. But, as noted in “The Globalization of Legal Education,” technology and distance learning provide the opportunity for the presentation of legal education in a global context. 

So, take the tunnel. Drive down Riverside Drive. Take the bridge. Just don’t take our proximity to another country and its offerings, legal or otherwise, for granted.


Jennifer Henderson is the director of the Canadian & American Dual J.D. Program, UDM’s long-standing and distinctive joint degree program with the University of Windsor. As director, Henderson oversees the day-to-day operations of the program, coordinating with other departments at both institutions to achieve program goals. She is the first point of contact for prospective students, current students and alumni of the dual program. Henderson is also responsible for the administration of key committees in the Dual J.D. Program. In addition to her duties as director, Henderson teaches Criminal Law, and has guest lectured on Governmental Immunity in the Torts classes. She has been the faculty coach for the Gibbons Criminal Procedure team and has also been a barrister in UDM Law’s chapter of American Inns of Court.