Spring 2014

Cover Story

JDs in the D: Michigan Law Students Discover Detroit’s Appeal

By Kim North Shine and Katie Vloet

“It’s not what I expected,” Shainee Shah, a 2L, said as she and a group of fellow Michigan Law students took over a city sidewalk in Detroit. 


Michigan Law Students walking through Detroit
About half of the people on the recent JDs in the D visit to the city had never been to Detroit. Many said they were interested in working toward the city’s revitalization.

Changing people’s perceptions is part of the mission of JDs in the D, a volunteer group of law students. Through visits to the city, events at the Law School, and partnerships with Detroit-based organizations, JDs in the D shows law students that there are good reasons to consider living and working in Detroit after graduation. 

“There seems to be a vacuum between Detroit and Ann Arbor and a lack of information about the opportunities that exist in Detroit,” said Chris Burtley, a 2L and an organizer of JDs in the D. “We want people to see how much the two cities are connected and can help each other.” Shah, Burtley, and about 30 other law students visited the city in the fall. About half of the people in the group hadn’t been to Detroit previously. “You see one thing on the news,” 

Shah pointed out. “When you’re here, you see something completely different.” 

The students got a rare look at an ornate and historic courtroom before moving on to more modest offi ces where federal prosecutors detailed real-life law lessons. They also stepped into corners of the city that few get a chance to see so up close: corporate America and an NBA franchise, a prestigious law firm, and an urban community garden.

The students were welcomed at Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLP by David Foltyn, ’80, partner, chairman, and CEO at the firm; COO Robert Kubic; and Richard Barr, ’82, partner and leader of the investment incentives and tax savings practice group. 

“We hope to see a lot of you here one day. Detroit keeps growing and growing. It’s a great place to be,” Foltyn told the students. 

Barr escorted them to their next stop at Quicken Loans, and on the way they passed diners lunching at Fountain Bistro, and offi ce workers spending time on the grass. 

“A few years ago, there was none of this,” said Barr, who helped arrange funding and the stops on the tour. 

Even before the tour, many Law School students didn’t need a sales pitch to tell them that Detroit is an exciting place to be. Indeed, some members of JDs in the D say that being near Detroit and having the chance to help the city with its turnaround affected their decision to come to Michigan Law in the first place. 

In addition to organizing the visits to the city, the JDs in the D also hold an annual month of events at the Law School. This past fall, that included talks about social and economic empowerment in the city, election law and voter participation, careers, startups, and more. 

But the visit to Detroit is one of the best ways for students to get a real sense of the city’s revival, say the leaders of JDs in the D. At the city tour in the fall, the group went from Honigman to Quicken Loans. 

They were greeted by Bruce Schwartz, the high-energy Detroit relocation ambassador who works for Dan Gilbert, owner of Quicken Loans, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and numerous companies that are involved with the revitalization of the city. 

Schwartz rattled off a long list of projects underway throughout the city and pointed them out through the windows at the Quicken Loans headquarters. “You will be blown away,” he assured the group. “We need people like you here to keep it going, to spread the word about Detroit being the place to be.” 

That shouldn’t be a problem. After the recent trips to the city, organizers of the tours have heard from many students who were surprised—pleasantly so—about what the city had to offer. 

“People who have visited Detroit with us,” said Milo Madole, a 2L and a JDs in the D organizer, “have written emails afterward saying, ‘I had no idea how many opportunities there are here.’”