In her second year at Trinity College, Bridget Mary McCormack ’88 H’13 took the LSAT on a whim. That passing decision eventually led her to where she is now—serving as chief justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. On March 25, 2021, McCormack joined Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney for a Virtual Long Walk conversation about her journey from Hartford to the bench of Michigan’s highest court.
During their conversation, McCormack discussed how her state’s justice system pivoted during the pandemic, and her perspective on what reforms can increase access to justice for those who are disadvantaged when facing the legal system. Also a law professor, the chief justice shared her perspective on the importance of experiential education, and how her work to expand clinical programming at the University of Michigan School of Law was rooted in a belief in the power of hands-on learning.
To navigate difficult conversations that arise in her role on the court, McCormack emphasized the value of empathy and honesty. “Sympathetic engagement with counter-argument is a skill… and that’s the goal,” she said. “If you can sympathetically engage with someone who disagrees with you and finish the discussion and still have respect for each other, we’re all better off.” She said her liberal arts education at Trinity helped her build this skill.
As she continues her work on the court, McCormack said she looks to Trinity and places like it for hope. “Our world, our cities have real problems, and they need our talented, energetic Trinity graduates to go focus their attention on those problems,” she said. McCormack expressed that students give her the energy and encouragement to continue to promote equity and justice for all.
Watch the full conversation below or click here.
McCormack is a graduate of the New York University Law School and a professor at the University of Michigan Law School, where she has served as associate dean for clinical affairs. McCormack has won numerous awards for her work. In 2019, Governor Gretchen Whitmer appointed her as co-chair of the Michigan Joint Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration. McCormack publishes on a broad range of topics in professional journals.
As the chief justice, McCormack has promoted statewide initiatives devoted to improving the court’s service to the public, and in particular delivering on a promise that courts are independent, accessible, engaged with their communities, and efficient. For example, together with the Michigan attorney general, she launched an Elder Abuse Taskforce, which is actively working on improvements to the service to seniors in courts. Additional successful initiatives by McCormack include the Michigan Access for all Taskforce, Online Dispute Resolution throughout Michigan’s courts, the first expungement clinics in the state, and Michigan’s participation in the Regional Judicial Opioid Initiative (RJOI).
See more Virtual Long Walk presentations here.