Attorney's $500K gift helps expand MSU Law clinic

MSU Law's First Amendment Law Clinic is the only clinical program in the country solely dedicated to the protection of student speech and press rights. Now, a $500,000 donation from leading Michigan attorney and MSU Law Trustee Richard D. McLellan will expand the clinic's impact nationwide by creating a Free Expression Online Library and Resource Center.

The McLellan Free Expression Online Library will provide answers to legal questions and links to hundreds of sources on topics such as student censorship, invasion of privacy, social media speech, libel, and copyright issues. Students across the country will be able to connect with MSU Law's resources to protect their rights to free speech.

"My own high school experiences taught me the importance of protecting those rights," McLellan said. "I thought about what I wanted to support with this gift, and I realized, throughout my life, free speech was always a topic I was passionate about. This clinic will give student journalists tools to stand up against unlawful infringement."

The Free Expression Online Library is a testament to McLellan's lifelong advocacy of First Amendment principles. McLellan stood up for the free speech rights of his peers in high school and in college he was even nearly expelled from MSU for inviting communists to speak on campus. Nowadays, McLellan recounts that story with a laugh. He survived, and his impact on the university extends far beyond his undergraduate days.

Since 2010, the Clinic has trained 5,000 students at 34 Michigan high schools in free speech rights and press rights, according to Nancy A. Costello, Director of the MSU First Amendment Law Clinic. The McLellan Free Expression Online Library will offer guidance at the click of a button to students across the country struggling with free speech issues.

The First Amendment Clinic has helped students gain access to school board meetings. It has defended students threatened with suspension when they posted comments on Twitter and Facebook critical of their schools. It has defended student journalists for publishing basketball game scores when coaches wanted to censor the scores because they were embarrassed for their losing team.

"High school is where young people learn they have free speech rights. They carry that lesson into adulthood to speak out against injustice, and to create change," Costello said. "The McLellan Online Library will extend the Clinic's teachings across the country."

McLellan's community leadership spans virtually all areas of public policy. During his time at the Dykema law firm, McLellan served as head of the firm's Government Policy & Practice Group and as Managing Member of the firm's Lansing Office. He also served as a special assistant attorney general by appointment of Attorney General Frank J. Kelley, and he has been appointed twice by the Michigan Supreme Court as a Commissioner of the State Bar of Michigan.

"Richard is one of the most intellectually-curious people I've ever met," said Dean Joan Howarth. "He is known for following his own course and speaking his mind, whether it wins him friends or the opposite. It's no surprise that he reveres the First Amendment."

On a national scale, McLellan has served as an advisor to the Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration as a member of the National Advisory Food and Drug Committee of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare under the Ford administration. The Detroit Free Press describes him as "the most influential person in Michigan you never heard of."

"Richard's donation to expand our First Amendment work further cements his legacy as a tireless advocate for civil liberties," said Howarth.

Clif Haley, Board Member and MSU Law President Emeritus, described McLellan's public service as "legendary."

"Richard is a highly-respected attorney, constitutional scholar, and lobbyist whose values of democracy, decency, reason, responsibility civility, and tolerance are well-recognized," Haley said. "He has contributed to civil political discourse at state, national, and international levels. There is not a Michigan policy written in the last 50 years that does not have at least a smudge of his fingerprints on it."

MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon also acknowledged McLellan's impact on the university and called him a "renaissance man." She thanked him for his gift and called the preservation of free speech one of the great issues of the 21st century.

Published: Mon, Jun 20, 2016