Former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Dennis Archer Speaks at Cooley Law School
May 14, 2013 – "The definition of leadership," former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Dennis Archer told Cooley Law School students, "is inspiring others to achieve excellence. He or she must be willing to make tough decisions; must have a vision and a strategy."
Archer, also a former two-term mayor of Detroit, Mich., spoke in Lansing on May 10 on ethics, integrity and leadership. The event was sponsored by the Davis-Dunnings Bar Association, the Cooley Law School Krinock Lecture Series, and the Cooley Center for Ethics, Service, and Professionalism.
Heather Spielmaker, director of the Center for Ethics, Service, and Professionalism at Cooley, said the presentation was well-received. "Our students turned out in great numbers to hear words of wisdom from such an accomplished speaker, and the Davis-Dunnings Bar Association members stayed after to mentor and interact with our students. We love these kinds of events!"
Archer is chairman and CEO of Dennis W. Archer PLLC. He is also chairman emeritus of Dickinson Wright, PLLC, and a former president of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Michigan, the Wolverine Bar Association, and the National Bar Association.
Archer, who — among his other honors — was named one of the 100 Most Powerful Attorneys in the U.S. by the National Law Journal and one of the 100 Most Influential Black Americans by Ebony Magazine, is candid about his humble beginnings.
"I was born in Detroit and grew up in Cassopolis," he said. "We had no running water. We were so poor," he quipped, "we couldn't pay attention!" He said that his father had a third-grade education and his mom had a high school education, but they made it clear to him that if he wanted to live better, he had to get a good education.
Archer took his parents' words to heart and focused on education both personally and professionally. He earned his bachelor's degree at Western Michigan University and began a career teaching learning-disabled students in the Detroit Public Schools. He earned his law degree in 1970 and began practice soon thereafter, but he continued in the educational realm as well, serving for a time as both an associate professor and an adjunct professor in Detroit-area law schools.
The ability to help others is a key benefit of having a law degree, Archer said, recounting how rewarding he found it to speak on behalf of people who did not know how to speak up for themselves. "Everyone, especially those with a legal education, has the power to challenge injustice," he said.
Archer indicated he felt that commitment to help was indeed being absorbed by today's law students. "When I was in law school," he noted, "there were no clinical programs. Now, in interviews, students ask about the ability to continue doing pro bono work."
You don't need to be a 'big name' to help out, he noted. "You don't need a title to give back; you need time. You can do so much by giving back."
That commitment to others, along with strong values, are vital to success, he indicated. "Ethics are going to be the key to whatever happens in your life. You make your life on your own hard work and initiative."
He urged students to "stay squeaky clean," adding, "What you do as a lawyer, people watch you. Don't violate your ethics."
About Cooley Law School: Celebrating 40 years of excellence, the Thomas M. Cooley Law School is a private, nonprofit, independent law school accredited by the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission. Cooley has provided its more than 17,000 graduates with the practical skills necessary for a seamless transition from academia to the real world. Cooley offers its Juris Doctor program, Joint Degree programs, and Master of Laws programs three times a year with enrollment in January, May and September. Cooley Law School has campuses across Michigan in Lansing, Auburn Hills, Grand Rapids and Ann Arbor, and its new campus in Tampa Bay, Florida.