Law Curriculum Comes To GVSU

    GRAND RAPIDS — Muskegon County has a four-term circuit judge who, a quarter century ago, earned his law degree the hard way.

    While teaching full-time in the law enforcement training academy at Muskegon Community College, James M. Graves also spent four years commuting three times a week between his Muskegon home and the Detroit College of Law.

    In the process, the now honorable James M. Graves recalls that he put about 250,000 miles on two cars.

    “I had no choice,” Graves told the Business Journal. “If I wanted to become a lawyer without being a full-time student, back then it was a case of commuting to law school in either downtown Chicago or in downtown Detroit.”

    Graves’ near-epic pursuit of his juris doctor degree is an extreme case, but it’s also instructive.

    West Michigan residents who have aspired to be lawyers have had to sacrifice substantially in terms of time, long-distance commuting or the financing necessary to re-establish their domicile temporarily in central or southeast Michigan.

    But as of January, the degree of sacrifice to get into law studies will relate primarily to mastering course materials, because legal education now is available here on the west side of the state.

    Local students who wish to become lawyers can start and finish their coursework entirely in downtown Grand Rapids.

    The first announcement to that effect came late last month.

    That’s when Grand Valley State University reported that, starting in January, it will offer several law courses at the DeVos Center on the university’s Pew Campus.

    The courses build on an existing collaboration between GVSU, Michigan State University and the MSU-Detroit College of Law program.

    Together with the Grand Rapids Bar Association, the three education institutions have created the Legal Education Institute of West Michigan, a consortium to offer courses for JD students, plus members of the bar who already are in practice, and corporate executives needing to broaden their legal background.

    In the wake of GVSU’s announcement came word that Cooley Law School will offer a full JD curriculum Grand Rapids in tandem with Western Michigan University (see story on page one).

    The GVSU-MSU-DCL law courses are the next step in the three schools’ partnership, which began with a dual JD-MBA program and an accelerated program for GVSU’s Seidman School of Business students planning to enter law schools.

    Area students interested in enrolling in the Legal Education Institute program are advised to contact Christine Hammond, MSU-DCL, at (517) 432-6804.

    GVSU’s president, Mark Murray, said the decision to offer law courses at the DeVos Center underscores the university’s commitment to build programs to meet West Michigan’s academic needs.

    “Grand Valley has a responsibility to serve the educational needs of our community by providing high quality law programming and supporting the Bar Association’s mission of high competence and civility in the practice of law.”

    He explained that the schools have been consulting with the local bar association on the issue of law courses since 1999.

    The Hon. Patrick Bowler, Kent County circuit judge, said the Grand Rapids Bar Association, which he currently serves as president, is excited about the creation of the Legal Education Institute and making law studies available locally.

    He said the program will enhance the legal profession here and provide services to members of the bar.

    MSU’s president, Peter McPherson, said collaborative efforts such as that between MSU, GVSU and MSU-DCL are essential in a time of economic constraints.

    “Leaders in higher education have an obligation to meet the needs of our students by providing quality programs that maximize our resources and foster an integrated approach to learning.

    “The successful affiliation between Michigan State and MSU-DCL College of Law demonstrates the potential such initiatives have in expanding educational opportunities in our state.”

    Clifton E. Haley, the president of the law college, stressed that all law classes offered at GVSU will comply with American Bar Association accreditation standards.

    “Students enrolled in courses in Grand Rapids will receive the same high-quality instruction as provided by the law college in East Lansing.

    “We will continually consult with members of the practicing bar and the judiciary to ensure that these courses reflect the best training for aspiring lawyers.” BJ

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