Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack joins the Future of the Profession Initiative as Strategic Advisor, bringing her breadth of experience and dedication to equal access to justice.
The University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School is eager to welcome the Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court Bridget Mary McCormack to the Future of the Profession Initiative (FPI), where she will serve as Strategic Advisor and join efforts to drive meaningful change in the way the legal system serves a rapidly evolving society.
“I am thrilled to be joining the talented team at FPI and look forward to contributing to the important work underway and on the horizon,” said McCormack. “FPI’s commitments to collaboration across disciplines and to blue sky thinking to address the stickiest problems facing the legal profession today make it a very exciting place for me to devote my time and energy. I’m excited to meet the students and alumni who are engaged with FPI and to get to work.”
Breadth of Expertise and Insights
McCormack brings extensive experience not only from the bench but also from her dynamic career as an attorney, law professor, and law school administrator.
After earning her law degree from New York University, McCormack spent five years working with the Legal Aid Society and then with the Office of the Appellate Defender in New York. She taught at Yale Law for two years before joining the faculty at the University of Michigan Law in 1998, where she taught criminal law, legal ethics, and several clinical courses.
In 2002, McCormack was named Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs at Michigan Law, where she spearheaded the expansion of clinical offerings. She also co-founded the Michigan Innocence Clinic, which has exonerated more than 22 people and continues to draw attention to issues of injustice that contribute to wrongful convictions.
McCormack was elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in November of 2012, and she has served as the Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court since January of 2019. She also serves as Vice Chair of the accrediting authority of American law schools and is a member of the ABA’s Counsel on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar.
As Chief Justice, McCormack has led Michigan’s trailblazing equity efforts in criminal justice administration. In 2020, Michigan passed the most progressive criminal record expungement reform in the country. McCormack chaired the bipartisan Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, which, among other issues, worked to determine why Michigan’s county jail populations had tripled over the previous 30 years even though crime was at a 50-year low. Thus far, the legislature has signed over 20 of the task force’s recommendations into law, including the elimination of 22 mandatory minimum jail sentences.
Given judges’ unique vantage point as both individual decision arbiters and leaders operating within vast networks that affect countless lives, McCormack emphasizes that they have an obligation to speak out about the need for systemic reform.
Dedication to Innovation and Access to Justice
In less than four years as Chief Justice, McCormack’s commitment to pursuing a more just and accessible legal system has had a profound impact within her community. She has prioritized ensuring access to justice for all, especially for the most vulnerably situated individuals – a challenge underscored by the pandemic, which McCormack recognized as a pivotal moment that has highlighted the grave inequities that have long contributed to disproportionate access to justice.
“We could not be more excited to welcome Chief Justice McCormack to our community,” said Jennifer Leonard L’04, FPI Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director. “Her deep understanding of the challenges facing the legal profession, her fearlessness in questioning the value of deeply entrenched systems and culture, and her passion for generating and trying new solutions are unparalleled. Everything we do through the Future of the Profession Initiative will be stronger because of her contributions.”
McCormack believes that the judiciary has an intrinsic responsibility to ensure that everyone – regardless of income level – can effectively access justice. Of the nearly four million cases heard in Michigan courts every year, a significant number are brought by low-income people who must often navigate complex legal problems without legal assistance. Many of the issues they encounter – such as debt collection, eviction, family law, and post-convictions fees – carry incredibly high stakes for their lives.
As Chief Justice, McCormack oversaw the creation and advancement of several tools meant to increase equity. Like many court systems during the pandemic, Michigan incorporated options for remote dispute resolution via video conferencing – and the number of default judgements plummeted. Moreover, Michigan also set up options for asynchronous online dispute resolution for 17 of the state’s 83 counties, empowering people to resolve civil legal problems for free.
“COVID, the ever-growing crisis in access to justice, and tectonic shifts in the practice of law have converged to demand fundamental changes in the legal profession. Bridget McCormack’s experience – in practice, the academy, the judiciary, and the ABA – make her uniquely qualified to help lead the way forward,” said Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas Nathan Hecht. “She has a deep understanding of where we are and how we got here, the insight and courage to innovate, and the advocacy skills to get the job done. When I’ve needed a strategic advisor and partner on tough legal reform issues, she’s been my first choice. I know she will be an enormous asset to Penn Carey Law’s Future of the Profession Initiative.”
Collaborative, Cross-Disciplinary Leadership
In her role as FPI Strategic Advisor, McCormack will work alongside the Initiative’s network of changemakers to advance the dual objectives of raising awareness of the many deficiencies in the legal system and building projects that respond to those failures.
“Chief Justice McCormack’s instinct to build community as she innovates aligns thoroughly with the cross-disciplinary collaborative nature of the Future of the Profession Initiative,” said Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law Ted Ruger. “We look forward to engaging with her as she lends her extraordinary expertise to our continued efforts to reimagine legal systems and implement real-world solutions that center equity, inclusion, and justice at every level.”
McCormack’s expertise and insights will fortify the design and launch of several upcoming FPI projects; she will also assist in developing new thought leadership programming, including webinars and podcast discussions that will provide opportunities for cross-disciplinary collaboration among students, faculty, staff, and organizational allies in the profession.
“Chief Justice McCormack is among the nation’s preeminent leaders in improving the American legal system to serve the public better,” said Jim Sandman L’76, Distinguished Lecturer and FPI Senior Consultant. “She combines a remarkably creative and innovative mind with an astounding ability to get things done. She is driven by a deep, personal commitment to justice and to public service. I’m thrilled to have her joining us at Penn Carey Law.”