Branham Leads Cooley GR

August 4, 2003
| By Katy Rent |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Following her life path, Lynn Branham has found herself in Grand Rapids, heading up Thomas M. Cooley Law School, and loving every minute of it.

Branham, who will begin her position as associate dean of the law school on Sept.1, grew up in Illinois and thought her life would take her from having a legal practice to someday sitting on the bench as a judge. However, following her husband in his career led her a different way.

Immediately following Branham’s law studies at the University of Chicago, she was fortunate to clerk for a federal district judge who laid the groundwork for what would later develop into her passion: correctional and sentencing reform law.

During the clerkship Branham went to work in a private law firm in Minneapolis where she did civil rights and criminal defense work. It was a time in her life, Branham said, when she was able to see law from several perspectives.

“I had also done some criminal defense work when I was in law school, so I had really seen the system from three different perspectives — prosecution, defense and judicial perspective — and now I see it from the perspective of a policy analyst,” she said.

While in Minneapolis, Branham’s husband accepted a position in Michigan, and as a result Branham took a job at Cooley’s Lansing campus. As it turned out, it was right where Branham found she wanted to be.

“It was a niche. I love teaching, I love to write and I love the chance for public service, which comes with an academic position,” said Branham. “So it was a wonderful opportunity for me, personally and professionally. Really, I had thought that I was going to be prosecuting and be a judge; that is where I thought I was going to go.”

During her first 13 years at Cooley, Branham developed an expertise in correctional and sentencing law and policy. Since then, the topic has become Branham’s passion and something on which she has worked extensively.

She has written books, policy statements and model statutes, worked with prison directors on model legislation and developed policy statements to form the foundation for programs such as victim offender mediation programs.

“I try to write articles that are usable to judges, legislators, people in the executive branch, and that is what I love about Cooley,” said Branham. “They have a very practical focus; there is a very good fit between what I believe academics can do and what lawyers can do and should do and what Cooley is dedicated to.”

Branham’s husband accepted a new job at the University of Illinois, where she subsequently taught and worked on a grant she had written for the American Bar Association, funded by the United States Department of Justice. Her work involved pro se inmate litigation, where inmates represent themselves in court.

She developed a manual for courts, attorney generals and correctional officials to use to try and limit the burden of the litigation of prisoners who choose to represent themselves, but have no experience. With Branham’s manual the burden is lightened and the inmate’s constitutional rights are protected.

It was during this time that Branham was recruited by Cooley to apply for the job of associate dean, and later was asked if she would accept the position. She said yes to both, and made the move back to Michigan. She said it was Cooley’s focus and dedication to its students that brought her back.

“There are so many other areas of policy reform and law where we can do so many other things, and do them better, and if I do have this practical focus I would like to play a role in a law school that is first of all committed to our students. That is really important to Cooley,” said Branham. “At a lot of schools I think the students are not the priority, and here they are. And our teachers are evaluated on their teaching and it is a big part that they are evaluated on, and I like being in a place where we say we are 100 percent committed to our students.”

In terms of public service, Branham said Cooley is making a difference, which fits well with her personal mission to make the community better, make the state better and make the nation better. She believes that law permeates life, no matter what the issue or idea.

Branham said she will continue her correctional and sentencing reform work in addition to her administrative position, but will have to choose more discrete projects in order to make sure that students’ needs are met and that the faculty as a whole can make a difference through their writing and public service work.

For now, Branham is focusing on her move to Michigan and planning for the upcoming school year and hiring permanent faculty. It is a step she feels is very important because of Cooley’s commitment to quality, to make sure the best and the brightest are hired, consistent with its philosophy to teach people to go out and help people with their problems.

“It is about people, it is about making a difference and it is about a community feel. We are really trying to implicate that here,” said Branham. “I want this to be a place where people are happy. Law school is hard work and I am not going to say that our students will skip as they go to take their final exam, but it will be a place where they are appreciated. I am committed to that.”

Briefly

Name: Lynn Branham
Title: Associate Dean
Organization: Thomas M. Cooley Law School
Age: 47
Birthplace: Washington, Ill.
Residence: East Grand Rapids
Community Involvements: On the board for Young Life and Wild Life, active in her church and a leader of the drama team in Illinois
Family: Married to ___ with four boys, Matthew, 19, Luke, 17, Jordan, 13, and Ben, 9

Biggest Career Break: “A defining moment was working for a federal district judge because that laid the groundwork for me going into correctional and sentencing reform work. A lot of that work involves prisoner cases, which got me into looking at cases of confinement, which got me into questions of sentencing, and I really have a passion for those issues.”

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