Source: Special to Michigan News
For Michigan Law faculty member Dana Thompson, the law isn’t just a profession. It’s a way to bring about economic change and further social justice.
Thompson was born in Detroit and is a true Motowner – her father worked for Motown Records as a writer, arranger, and lyricist. She earned her undergraduate degree at Bryn Mawr and her JD from the University of Michigan. After a stint teaching at Wayne State, she came back to Michigan Law, where she is the director of the Transactional Law Clinics Program and the Detroit-based Community Enterprise Clinic and the founder and co-director of the Zell Entrepreneurship Clinic.
What drew you to the law?
We lived in Detroit and then moved to Clinton Township in the 1970s. It was pretty homogenous, and I experienced a lot of discrimination growing up. My family would talk a lot about politics and raised my consciousness about the law being a tool for change. I knew when I was in high school that I wanted to go to law school to address the injustice I’d seen and experienced.
What does a clinical law professor do?
Clinical law professors engage with a smaller number of law students on actual client work, which makes us different than a professor that stands up and lectures in a large classroom. I teach a small group of students not only about law they’ll apply to client work, but how to engage with their clients and understand their goals. We also talk a lot about history and the political circumstances that have led to cities like Detroit being in the condition it is in.
How do potential clients find out about the student-run Community Enterprise Clinic in Detroit?
We do a lot of community outreach. Last semester, we were at the Jefferson East Inc., community development organization and held a workshop for entrepreneurs in the area about common legal issues. We have a blog where we write about legal issues for nonprofits and small businesses. We want as many people to have access as possible.
What energizes you about teaching?
Being able to share with students a deeper and more nuanced aspect of lawyering. There’s no better way of helping them understand their clients’ perspectives than working with clients. It energizes me to see students begin to understand what it means to be a lawyer and become problem solvers and be creative and empathize with people who maybe come from different backgrounds.
What is your favorite thing about the University of Michigan?
Gosh, so many things! I love the commitment to the football team, the spirit around games. I love the fact that the university has this incredible reach and is really fortunate to have the financial resources that allow us to do the work we do in the Detroit community.