Spring 2021

James J. White

Legendary Professor Inspires Scholarship in His Honor

By Chelsea Liddy Pivtorak

For almost five decades, Professor James J. White, ’62, has been one of Michigan Law’s most revered professors, challenging and inspiring thousands of students in and out of the classroom. 

Today, he remains a beloved figure in the Quad, and the Professor James J. White Scholarship Fund has been established in his honor by several dedicated alumni. 

Professor White, the Robert A. Sullivan Professor of Law Emeritus, joined the law faculty in 1964 and taught until his official retirement in 2014 (teaching occasional classes afterward). He also served as associate dean from 1978 to 1981. 

He is considered a foremost expert in the field of commercial law, and his publications on the subject remain in widespread use. Indeed, Professor White’s scholarship and outspoken leadership have left an indelible mark, and he was also instrumental in initiating clinical education at Michigan Law. 

In 1969, he taught a group of 10 students who took on cases from the Washtenaw County Legal Aid Clinic, and he helped propose a rule to the Michigan Supreme Court that allowed students to practice in state courts with appropriate supervision. 

“Professor White is as notable a teacher as he is a scholar,” says Laura Ricketts, ’98. “One could tell how much Professor White loved teaching by the way he treated his students. He respected them. He was honest with them. He encouraged and mentored them. He challenged them. He clearly cared about his students and their success in class as well as in their careers. 

Because of this, his students uniformly respect and adore him.” Professor White’s shrewdly persistent teaching style was used to full effect during his Contracts, Commercial Transactions, Negotiations, and Bankruptcy classes and provided the educational basis that so many students used as a foundation for their professions. 

Recognizing his influence and storied career, Eric Lefkofsky, ’93, says, “J.J. White represents the best of Michigan Law. He is thoughtful as well as thought provoking, and he makes everyone around him more engaged in the world and the responsibility we all share in shaping its future.” 

Several other former students have joined the effort, including Kevin Conroy, ’91. “More than any other professor, J.J. inspired me to solve complex problems by looking at multiple solutions from different perspectives. I’m lucky to have been one of his students,” says Conroy. 

The entire Law School community has benefited from Professor White’s many contributions during his half century of service in the Quad, and thanks to several generous alumni, future generations will continue to benefit from his legacy. 

When asked about his thoughts on the scholarship, Professor White said, “The best part of teaching law was the interaction with students. The fact that a number of my students were willing to commit to this scholarship is something that makes me very pleased and proud.”