Supreme Court Justice extols Michigan Law School at South Hall dedication

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By Jo Mathis

Legal News

At the Sept. 7 dedication of the University of Michigan Law School's South Hall, Dean Evan Caminker noted how similar his career has been to that of Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.

They both became law professors in 1991 who were tenured in 1995. In 2003, they both became deans of their respective law schools (she, at Harvard), inheriting venerable facilities in great need of expansion and modernization. They both looked forward to the day they could celebration the culmination of those efforts with their supporters.

But then their paths took different turns, Caminker noted, referring to Kagan's appointment to the Supreme Court in 2010.

"So now, only I have the privilege of fulfilling my dream," he joked, to the laughter of the crowd. "I thought the least I could do was to try to help her heal her wounds by inviting her to join us today and live vicariously through our celebration."

Happy to oblige, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan hailed the Michigan Law School as one of the most extraordinary in the world, and praised the new South Hall located across Monroe Street from the celebrated Law Quad.

"America is a great democracy, and the institutions of democracy depend on lawyers," she said, adding that their lawyerly training enables them to contribute to a broad range of issues.

"What the University of Michigan Law School has done --and what other great law schools do--is very important to the future of this nation," she said. "And this is a spectacular law school."

She cautioned the crowd not to take the school for granted.

"When you think about the University of Michigan Law School as a public institution, I think almost certainly, it is the preeminent public law school in the United States," she said. "And people should feel very proud."

Great buildings are important to great law schools, she said.

"Maybe there was a time when great education meant that one student and one professor got together with a pad and a piece of paper," she said, "but in truth, great education today depends on having facilities that really enable students to reach their highest potential."

Located on the southeast corner of State and Monroe, the South Hall opened on Jan. 11. It houses classroom and clinic spaces as well as faculty and staff offices. It is the largest component of the law school's $102 million renewal project.

Earlier, U-M President Mary Sue Coleman noted that South Hall is the Law School's first new academic building since 1933.

"The campus has changed significantly since then, but one of the great constants through the decades has been the excellence of Michigan Law," she said. "That, and the fact that more than ever, exceptional legal education is critical both nationally and globally."

She noted that Michigan Law School has produced Supreme Court justices, legislators at the federal and state levels, leaders in law firms, communications, business, education, and academia, and social activists.

The best legal education trains students to think like lawyers, a skill transferrable to many areas, she noted. A Michigan Law education today exposes students to real cases, real clients, and real world problems.

At an open house in South Hall followed the hour-long ceremony, Caminker showed Kagan the classrooms, which include intuitive, touch-panel control systems, document cameras, a larger touch screen that allows professors to annotate documents projected on video screens, and more.

Two of the rooms are equipped for videoconferencing and distance learning, with a microphone for every other student that enable class discussions with other law schools.

Caminker told the crowd that the Law Quad--as magnificent as it is--needed the supplementation of South Hall to reflect technological demands of the 21st Century.

"We don't build very often around here--just every Great Depression or so," he said. "But when we do it, we do it well."

Published: Thu, Sep 13, 2012

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