Patriot Professor: Award recognizes law professor's work on DeBoer v. Snyder


 By Jo Mathis

Legal News
From the first time attorney Dan Ray stood in front of a class of law students, he knew that one day he’d be a fulltime law professor.
“I figured eventually I’m going to get into this. I don’t know when, I don’t know where, I don’t know how. But at some point I figured I’d move into teaching.”
This Thursday, Ray will be presented with the Patriot Award at the Washtenaw County Bar Association’s Annual Awards Dinner and Election.
“I’m incredibly humbled about it and frankly, more than a little embarrassed, because there are so many people who are much more deserving of the award than I am, and I’ll probably see a lot of those people at the award presentation ceremony,” said Ray, sitting in his office at the Cooley Law School campus, where he teaches Constitutional Law. “It’s obviously very nice and very humbling to be recognized for one’s work.”
Ray grew up in Kansas, the oldest of three children. His father was an entrepreneur who ran a Kansas City advertising agency for many years before switching to car dealerships and then a printing and typesetting business at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Ray earned his undergraduate degree in finance from Texas Christian University and his J.D. from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Law School.
While working as an attorney in Missouri and Kansas, Ray started teaching as an adjunct faculty member at his alma mater.
It felt right immediately.
After working there first as a visiting professor, Ray joined the full-time faculty at Cooley’s Lansing campus in 2005, then transferred to the Auburn Hills campus for three years before moving to the newly opened Ann Arbor campus in 2009.
“I’m kind of like a bad penny,” he said with a smile. “They keep trying to shuffle me off from one campus to another.”
Not that he’s complaining.
“I’m one of these people, who—if you said, ‘Did you like law school?,’ I’d say, ‘Yeah! I really liked law school. I love the academic environment.’ And so I find myself much happier in a place like this than in a law office.”
Ray encourages his students to begin their job search, which includes networking and joining law-related organizations, from the moment they begin law school. If they wait to begin their job search when they’re in their second year of law school, they’re “hopelessly behind the curve,” he says.
“When I came out of school 25 years ago, there were employers lined up around the block offering jobs to bright-eyed law graduates,” said Ray. “And that’s not the case anymore.”
Joan Vestrand, dean of Cooley’s Ann Arbor campus, says Ray is one of the brightest lawyers she knows and is an extremely gifted teacher.
“I have had graduates contact me midway through the bar exam asking that I thank him for how well he taught them constitutional law,” she said. “They express that thanks to him, they have what they need to do well on that subject.”
She said Ray avoids any attention to himself, and is uncomfortable in the spotlight.
“I know that this award, although very well deserved, is also embarrassing to him because he does his work for the right reasons, only,” she said.  “He very quietly but passionately does what he can to move the pendulum a little closer to the mark that is justice and fairness for all.”
Ray says that in order to understand constitutional law and doctrine, students need to know at least a bit about history, economics, international affairs, and politics. He tells students they need to take off their 21st century glasses and see the world through the eyes of the people who were living the cases at the time.
 “You let them know that this case—whatever it is—is about real people leading real lives, and here’s how they found themselves in this circumstance, and here’s how they dealt with it,” he said.
The Patriot Award is largely a result of Ray’s recent work on behalf of the DeBoer v. Snyder same-sex marriage case. He and colleague Brendan Beery co-authored a Friend of the Court brief last summer that they filed on behalf of the plaintiffs.
“We obviously have a big interest in the case, and it’s the sort of stuff we teach all the time,” he said. “I led off today’s class, for example, talking for about 25 minutes about the judgment and the court’s order in DeBoer, the stay and what’s going to happen on appeal because this is real life stuff. This is the law as it’s actually being made.”
Ray lives in Brighton and jokes that he’s embarrassed to admit he doesn’t have much of a life outside of studying the law.
“If I’m not here teaching or doing stuff, the odds are, I’m at home reading cases or reading articles about things that relate to the Constitution or constitutional law,” he said.
Asked what people don’t realize about being a law professor, Ray said it’s the fact that the job never ends.
“People think Ray shows up two or three times a week, and teaches his class, then grabs his keys and off he goes home and that’s the end of it,” he said. 
In fact, on the days he doesn’t teach, he wakes up early, throws on some sweats, walks into his home office, turns on the computer, and may work until 8 p.m.
“So I’m working all the time, even if I’m not standing in front of a classroom,” he said. “The only way you can stay ahead of some of these sharp minds you’re educating in the classroom is by really, really working hard at it.”
He teaches two or three courses per term, and each class typically meets for three hours once a week.
“My favorite part of the job is standing up in front of the class, doing my thing, interacting with the students, figuring out how to push the buttons and get them thinking, how to get them to respond,” he said. “That’s what keeps me coming back. I really get a kick out of their enthusiasm and excitement over the law. It sounds hokey I suppose, but it’s one of those things that gets you jazzed up about coming to work.”


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