The Michigan State University College of Law (MSU Law) began as the Detroit College of Law in 1891. Michigan State began assimilating the Detroit College of Law in 1995. The process will complete in the fall of 2020 when the college becomes a fully public school (it was previously a private institution). The integration of the law college into the university allowed the law school to grow new areas of expertise by building on Michigan State’s considerable expertise in automotive law, health law issues, and the food and beverage industry. The law school also moved from its original location in Detroit to the main campus in Lansing, placing the law school in close proximity to the state’s capital. Since its inception, the school has been a pioneer in admitting women and minorities–a practice that continues to this day. The school’s alumni include the current governor of Michigan and several members of the Michigan Supreme Court.
MSU Law’s first year curriculum strives to balance traditional academic courses with practical, skill-based learning. Students take the core courses of American legal education: civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property, and torts. In the fall semester, students take a foundational course on legal research, writing, and analysis as well as non-credit course covering the foundations of the law that offers a broad perspective on the law. In the spring semester, students are introduced to the skills of advocacy and take a course covering advanced legal skills. This first year build the foundation for all future academic and skill-based work.
Upper-level students are required to take a course in professional responsibility, complete six hours of experiential education, satisfy the writing requirement, and complete five courses from a pool of core courses. The core course pool covers the most common subjects on the bar exam and prepares students for the more advanced coursework depending on their academic focus. MSU Law offers over a dozen focus areas that help prepare students for particular practice areas. MSU Law also houses eight legal centers that focus on a variety of practice areas.
MSU Law offers a broad range of additional degree programs for both lawyers and non-lawyers. The law school also offers a number of programs focused on international lawyers. International lawyers may earn an “advanced standing” Juris Doctor that awards them their J.D. in two years, crediting their international law degree for one year of coursework. Additionally, international lawyers may opt to earn a Master of Laws (LL.M) degree focused on American legal studies.
MSU Law’s LL.M program also has two other focus areas: Global Food Law and Intellectual Property. The LL.M program generally takes one year of residential coursework for completion. All three LL.M programs require either a Juris Doctor or a foreign equivalent for admission. However, the programs are also available to non-attorneys who may earn a Master of Jurisprudence in all three subjects. The program in Global Food Study is an online program while the rest require residential coursework. The M.J. degree is intended for professionals whose careers intersect heavily with the law. Non-attorneys may also earn a Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.) degree that covers the fundamentals of the legal system.
J.D. candidates at MSU Law may also combine their degree with several additional programs. Students may earn a second law degree in a total of four years through an exchange program with Ottawa University Law School. This affords students both a U.S. and Canadian law degree. In addition, students at MSU Law may participate in a joint degree program that combines their J.D. studies with an M.B.A. from the Michigan State Business school. The program also takes four years and requires admission to both programs independently.
Career and Career Placement
Based on statistics from the most recent graduating classes, 85% of all graduates of MSU Law are employed in careers either requiring a law license or preferring a Juris Doctor degree within 10 months of graduation. Including students who pursued additional academic studies or professional careers outside of the law, the total employment rate for MSU Law graduates exceeds 90%. Over 50% of students who were employed opted for traditional law firm work. Small law firms (1 to 10) attorneys was the most common choice for graduates. MSU Law graduates also notably chose careers in government and in the public interest sector. These options accounted for over 25% of all graduates. Almost 15% of graduates chose work in the business sector while MSU Law also had tremendous success securing federal and state clerkships for its graduates (10% of all employed). Just over half of all graduates remained in Michigan to begin their careers with Illinois and California being the next most popular choices.
With a staff of seven professionals, MSU Law’s Career Services Office (CSO) offers excellent individualized counseling as well as career counselors who specialize in various practice areas. The CSO views graduation from MSU Law as the start of one’s professional career and works with graduates throughout their careers. This allows the office to leverage the nearly 10,000 MSU Law alumni base to help build the school’s professional network. The CSO also offers students help in building their resumes and professional social media presence (an increasingly important facet in today’s online society). Along with administering season on-campus interviews, the CSO provides a range of programs directed at helping students plan and prepare for their professional careers.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
MSU Law’s eight in-house legal clinics are the backbone of their experiential learning program. Skill-based learning begins in the very first semesters at MSU Law and continues throughout students’ educational careers. In clinics, students work with real clients to advocate on a variety of legal topics. While working with clients, students are supported one-on-one by faculty experts at each step of their case.
Students at MSU Law may also build practical skills through an external field placement in either Michigan or as far away as Washington, D.C. In these externships, student spend a semester working alongside practicing attorneys. This opportunity immerses students in the real practice of law as they apply their classroom knowledge to real-world situations while also building their professional resumes.
MSU Law also offers students the opportunity to build trial and appellate advocacy skills through the school’s robust competition teams. Students may also work on one of the school’s three legal journals to master the skills of legal writing and research.
The student body at MSU Law has been notably diverse since its founding in 1891. Today, the law school maintains a dedicated office focused on diversity and equity services. Each year, the law school also celebrates “diversity week” to spotlight how the diverse student body enriches the entire law school. The school’s robust student organizations also celebrate the many passions and backgrounds of the students. As students at one of the largest public schools in the country, MSU Law students also enjoy a university campus filled with resources and recreational opportunities. The law school is located on the east side of the main campus across the street from the Wharton Center for Performing Arts and walking distance to several natural areas.
Lansing, Michigan is a traditional college town and the state capital. The population of just under 120,000 are mostly tied to the university or the capital government. The town is remarkably active with a wealth of entertainment and eating options as well as affordable housing options. Nearby Detroit also offers students a quick trip to one of the country’s major metropolis areas. Lansing is also surrounded by great lakes and national forests offering students many recreational options outside of school.