When students at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law return from winter break, those enrolled in clinics will enjoy new digs in a refurbished former city firehouse.
The law school in December opened the 6,000-square-foot space, which will now house its 10 legal clinics, just steps away from its main building.
“It’s a really beautiful facility,” said law dean Lloyd Semple. “It will convey an aura of professionalism, and the students will have a beautiful place to learn.”
Detroit Mercy is one of a handful of law schools that require students to complete at least one semester of clinic work. The law school’s clinics had been housed in a makeshift space in the back of an adjacent church for the past decade. Their offices were constructed with “bailing wire and fiberboard,” according to Semple, and their comparatively shabby condition was highlighted when the law school unveiled an $8 million renovation of its main building in August of 2011. Site inspectors with the American Bar Association were also unimpressed with the state of the school’s clinic offices.
With than major project complete, Semple’s attention turned to the vacant former firehouse that is just steps from the entrance to the main law school building. It had been used for many different things over the years but it maintained many of the historic firehouse details, such as large red door on the exterior and a spiral staircase within.
Semple happened to know the owners of the firehouse, and convinced them to give the law school a very favorable deal on the building. Several other donors also stepped forward to fund the project, which cost an estimated $1.5 million. Most notably, alumni Anthony Asher donated $500,000 in honor of his brother. The building is named for Walter Buhl Ford III, whose family sold the firehouse to the law school. The clinics are named for Asher.
The law school overhauled the interior space, and was able to maintain many of the original elements such as the lookout tower. Sadly, the school was not able to salvage the three original fire poles, Semple said.
“Having a nice space does make a difference,” he said. “I’ve already heard from clients who have mentioned that the space makes them feel like they are being represented by real lawyers.”
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