UDM professor edits collection of essays in honor of historian

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By Linda Laderman
Legal News

Troy Harris, a professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law (Detroit Mercy Law), melds the worlds of academia and the practice of law through his scholarly endeavors and his work as a prominent arbitrator with Miller Canfield in Detroit.

"I think many attorneys have an academic buried inside of them. I just let mine get out," said Harris.

In the business law community, Harris was named to the 2015 global edition of "Who's Who Legal: Arbitration."

"Being named to 'Who's Who' was very flattering, given that selection is based in peer reviews and that only two of us in Michigan made the final cut," Harris said.

Nationwide, only 10 academics were named to the arbitration list. In addition, Harris was the only Michigan lawyer included in the list of "Who's Who Legal: Construction."

"There's often a big divide between academics and practitioners. I try to keep a foot in each camp," Harris said.

At Detroit Mercy Law, Harris teaches commercial transaction courses like arbitration, contacts and sales. But his interests don't stop there. Harris draws on a diverse background in religious studies and legal history as a way to tackle pragmatic problems that might arise in his arbitration practice.

"The interest in religious studies was largely driven by curiosity about the religious foundations of legal systems. I find both law and religion endlessly fascinating because they both make significant, sometimes ultimate, claims on individuals' lives," Harris said.

Recently, Harris contributed to and edited a compilation of essays in honor of R.H. Helmholz, Harris' doctoral adviser and mentor. Helmholz is a noted historian, author, and the Ruth Wyatt Rosenson Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago.

"This is a gesture of respect and appreciation by Helmholz's friends in recognition of the help and advice he has given us over many years," Harris said.

The collection, "Studies in Canon Law and Common Law in Honor of R.H. Helmholz," brings together prominent historians and scholars.

"One of the most interesting things for me was getting in touch with the other contributors," Harris said. "Given their distinguished accomplishments as scholars, there was not a lot of hard core editing to be done."

Harris said he was drawn to Helmholz after reading his book "Roman Catholic Law in Reformation England."

"After reading that I thought 'I would like to have him as my dissertation adviser," Harris said.

Under Helmholz's tutelage, Harris produced "Law and Religion in the Eighteenth Century: The English Ecclesiastical Courts, 1725-1745," the subject of Harris' chapter in the essay collection, as well.

For Harris, the chance to edit the compendium of writings was an opportunity to connect with a group of scholars and historians that he had long admired.

"It was fun to get to know people I have collaborated with or read," Harris said.

Even though this was his first experience as a book editor, Harris said he was excited by the challenge.

"The thing I was most excited about was how the book pulls together a wide range of views from so many diverse historians, diversity in the sense of time periods and geographic areas," Harris said. "The work that Helmholz has done cuts across many boundaries, so it has a broader range of appeal to a bigger audience."

John Witte Jr., professor of law and director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University, said he approached Harris about editing the tribute to Helmholz, based on his scholarship and relationship with Helmholz.

"Professor Harris has rapidly emerged as a major legal scholar, and has been shaped by the scholarship and humanity of his close mentor Dick Helmholz. I thought he would be the ideal person to take on the volume, and he did it brilliantly," Witte said.

Before earning his law degree from the University of Michigan, Harris completed a master's in religious studies. Following his graduation from law school, Harris practiced for five years before he had what he describes as "an early midlife crisis." That led him to the University of Chicago, where he earned his Ph.D. in legal history.

Said Harris: "Chicago offered to pay me so I said, 'Why not?' But I worked way harder than I ever thought was possible. Chicago has a well-deserved reputation as the Marine Corps of graduate schools."

Asked how Helmholz received the book, Harris replied, "Despite having a more distinguished career than I will ever have, my dissertation director is an extremely humble man. He sent me a very gracious thank you note after the book appeared."

Published: Tue, Nov 17, 2015

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