Former chief justice to students: Ethics is the key


By Roberta M. Gubbins
Legal News

“Ethics, integrity and credibility are the keys to successful public service whether appointed or elected and is the key to being an outstanding lawyer,” said former Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice and Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, speaking to a large group of lawyers, students and professors gathered in the Cooley Center Lobby.

“Education, leadership, respect for ethics and diversity is also the key to a successful global economy,” he said.

His topic for the speech, held May 10, was the “Foundations of Success: Professionalism and Integrity.”

Archer explained that he didn’t start with all the titles he has earned over the course of his life.

Born in Detroit, he was raised in Cassopolis. His parents had little education but they made “clear to me that education was the absolute key for success. I knew that if I wanted to live better, if I wanted to have things, I needed an education.”

He went on to graduate from Detroit College of Law where he attended night school while teaching during the day. It was in law school that he “began to appreciate the power and the majesty of law.” 

A leader himself, he spoke of the demands of leadership.

Leaders must be disciplined,  Archer said, “make excellence your goal. Inspire others to reach their full potential by consistently operating at or near the peak of your own abilities.”

“Lawyers,” he said, “must live by high professional standards, set by the State Bar and the Michigan Supreme Court. The goal is to avoid even the appearance of wrong-doing or conflict of interest.”

Archer addressed the value of a legal education.

“There is so much you can do with a law degree,” he said. “Those who obtain the best grades are always going to have opportunities, are going to receive scholarship to help with expenses. Others, like me, had to work their way through.”

“However,” he said, “by your own hard work and sheer initiative,” you can be exceedingly successful at what you choose to do.

“You have every opportunity before you to help serve the public and people in corporations, to be prosecutors, defense attorneys, to do almost anything you want to do if you are willing to work at it.”

However, he emphasized, “ethics at the end of the day is going to be the key to whatever happens to you in your life.”

 Archer noted that lawyers are judged not only on what they do in their practice but also what they do in life. He urged the audience to be aware of this and to be ethical in all their activities both in and out of their practice.

Archer earned his Bachelor of Science degree in education from Western Michigan University.

He taught learning-disabled children in Detroit Public Schools from 1965 to 1970.

Archer earned his J.D. from the Detroit College of Law in 1970.

He served as a justice on the Michigan Supreme Court from 1986 to 1990. In his last year as a Michigan Supreme Court justice, he was named “most respected judge in Michigan” by Michigan Lawyers Weekly.

Archer served as mayor of Detroit from 1993 to 2001.

He, a former American Bar Association president, currently is chairman and CEO of Dennis W. Archer PLLC and chairman emeritus of Dickinson Wright PLLC.