Lawyer Diary: Former Governor


LSAT Blog Lawyer Diary Former Governor
The following Lawyer Diary comes in the form of an interview with Jennifer Granholm, a former Governor of Michigan. This interview is excerpted from Learning From Precedent.

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Bloch: Can you take me back to how you grew up?

Granholm: I was born in Canada but moved to California with my parents when I was four-years-old. My dad worked his way up the banking system; he started as a bank teller but ended up becoming president of a bank out here in Northern California.

Both my parents are Republicans. In fact, in high school, I worked for Gerald Ford’s campaign trying to get him elected. After high school, I took some time off and went to Los Angeles to become an actress. It was a terrible decision! It was clearly a “try something and if it doesn’t work out go to college” decision. In 1980, I also worked on John B. Anderson’s presidential campaign. I was inspired by those experiences, and my independent reading of politics and philosophy, to go to UC Berkeley as an undergraduate and major in Political Science and French. Majoring in French was less useful than Political Science, but it did help me while I spent a year in France during my junior year abroad.


Bloch: What did you do after graduating from Berkeley?

Granholm: I got into Harvard Law School. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college, so it was a big deal to go to Harvard. While I was there I was elected to be Editor-in-Chief of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, since at the time, I wanted to become a civil rights lawyer.


Bloch: What did you do after finishing Harvard Law?

Granholm: I ended up clerking for a judge in Michigan, and later, clerked for Judge Damon Keith on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. He is a big civil rights advocate. It was a huge honor to work with him because he’s not just a judge of the Detroit area—he’s an icon. He brought us with him to all of his events; we three clerks were almost like his children in tow. Because of him, I got to be introduced to the whole political scene in Michigan.

My husband and I [the two met at Harvard] married in between my second and third year of law school. After graduation, we moved to Detroit proper because we felt our work could have a large impact there. I worked for a county executive. I worked for the judge. I worked full-time on the Dukakis presidential campaign. Ultimately though, I ended up working for the U.S. Attorney’s office and did a lot of prosecution work. From there, I ran the Wayne County Corporation Counsel, the largest civil practice of a public firm in the state, to becoming Attorney General and Governor. That was my trajectory.


Bloch: What started your interest in law?

Granholm: I’ve always been totally enamored with the underdog, and I think a lot of that came from when I was in Los Angeles. While I was a tour guide at Universal Studios, during my breaks I would sit on this little patio and read books about philosophy. After a while, I really felt that Los Angeles was just not the place for me. I felt this burning feeling that I was in the wrong place and not making a difference in the world.  I felt a desire to change things, especially for people and places that had no voice. I felt a calling to help them, and I figured law is a great way to do that.


Bloch: How would you describe your law school experience at Harvard?

Granholm: I loved it. It was the best educational experience I have ever had. Up to that point, I had always been in big public schools. Even though it’s a huge law school, at Harvard I felt connected. I felt connected to my classes and my section, the grappling of ideas, and the rigors of the curriculum. At Harvard, I’ve never met so many people who wanted to become President. People who wanted to change the world. People who believed that this mutual platform of education could serve as a launchpad to the presidency.


Bloch: What was the best part your law school experience?

Granholm: I think the best experience was being the Editor-in-Chief of the Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. It was the largest in number in terms of the law review staffs. If you look at the roster of the CRCL, it had almost 100 students! It was huge, and everybody was so committed to the issue of civil rights. That was definitely a wonderful experience. That was also the first time I’d been elected to anything, so it was quite an honor and a very great experience for me.

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Jennifer Granholm served as the 47th Governor of Michigan (D) from 2003 – 2011. She is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley (1984), and she received her Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School (1987) where she served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review. She clerked for U.S. Judge Damon Keith on the Sixth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals, was Michigan’s Attorney General from 1999 – 2003, and is now the host of The War Room with Jennifer Granholm on Current TV. She is also a Distinguished Practitioner of Law and Public Policy at UC Berkeley’s School of Law and Goldman School of Public Policy.



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