Winter 2020

Beauty image of the Reading Room, looking up from the Courtyard

New Student Fellowship to Bolster Internationalism at Michigan Law

As a longtime leader in European public law and international corporate and commercial law, Michigan Law retains strong ties to the most prestigious European universities and has roughly 800 alumni living and working in Europe. 

Two of those alumni, Thomas Schürrle, LLM ’87, and Alfred Wiederkehr, MCL ’68, recently co-founded the European Alumni Fellowship Fund to ensure the continuation of this legacy and demonstrate to prospective students the strength of the Law School’s European alumni community.

The annual fellowship will be awarded to one or more JD, LLM, or SJD students who attended a school or university in Europe. 

“It’s been on my mind to do something that would allow me to leave a small footprint at one of my alma maters,” says Schürrle, who is the managing partner of the Frankfurt office of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP. 

“Many of us in Europe are used to hearing about state funding, but we easily forget the limits it imposes on expansion and development. If we want Michigan to continue to meet the challenges that come with offering a premier legal education for a global society and economy, then private support is essential.”

After graduating with an SJD from Heidelberg University, Schürrle traveled to the United States to study common law in Michigan’s LLM program. 

“Attending Michigan is both a challenge and a pleasure, especially for an already educated lawyer,” says Schürrle. “For me, it was about experiencing the academic life inside of a brilliant student body and learning the American way of thinking while also expanding my thought horizon with an international reach. Without that, it would have been much harder to develop a cross-Atlantic legal business and work in a global law firm like Debevoise & Plimpton.”

Two decades before Schürrle’s arrival in Ann Arbor, Wiederkehr applied to Michigan Law’s Master of Comparative Law (MCL) Program while completing a district court clerkship in Zürich. He already had worked as a district attorney after earning his master of law and PhD in law from the University of Zürich. 

“Studying law in the United States opens a new world for European lawyers that can be very helpful in the legal profession,” says Wiederkehr, senior partner at Wiederkehr Rechtsanwälte in Zürich. “I still have friends—both American and European—from my time in Ann Arbor.” 

It was unusual for European lawyers to train in the United States when Wiederkehr came to Michigan, so he became something of a pioneer. One of just a few European students in his class, he relished the experience. He went on to launch an international commercial law practice that has spanned five decades, and he has given generously to the Law School for nearly as many years, mostly in support of scholarships for LLM and MCL students in addition to the Geneva Externship program for JDs.

Schürrle and Wiederkehr view their leadership gifts as a return on the Law School’s investment in them, and hope they will inspire fellow European alumni to make their own contributions to the fund, which is the first of its kind at Michigan Law to unify the region’s philanthropy to increase the impact of each gift, Wiederkehr notes. 

“Because others supported me in my journey to receive a top education,” says Schürrle, “it has revived in me a sense of responsibility toward others and a commitment to continuing the development of justice as a fundament of a welfare society for all.”—JP