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Office Hours with Professor Catherine Grosso

This week, it is my great pleasure to introduce you to Catherine Grosso, associate professor of law at Michigan State University College of Law. A warm welcome and many thanks for her willingness to contribute to the Office Hours series with the following interview:

Office Hours

What drew you to law school? First as a law student and then as a professor.

I worked as a human rights worker in the Palestinian territories in the 1990s.  During that time I worked with lawyers who had trained all over the world.  These colleagues convinced me that I would find training as a lawyer useful and would be good at it.  The showed me ways that lawyers could use law to shape the world in better ways.

The faculty and dean at my law school first urged me to consider becoming a law professor.  It had never crossed my mind that I might become an academic.  I worked as a research assistant for Prof. David Baldus while I was in law school.  This research analyzed the ongoing influence of race in our criminal justice system.  Prof. Baldus continued to involve me in research after graduation, when I was clerking and working at a law firm.  I loved this research.  Finally, I had a chance to teach as a visiting professor at the University of Illinois law school.  That experience showed me that I could also be happy teaching law students.  I really do love my job.

Aside from your role in teaching, you have also researched racial disparities and discrimination within the field of law. Could you elaborate with an example of where this research has led you?

This morning before I began to answer these questions, I reviewed continuing news coverage of a major Supreme Court decision issued earlier this week on the role of race in jury selection (Foster v. Chapman).  I noticed that a finding from my research with Prof. Barb O’Brien has come to be stated as fact, as a starting point for further analysis.  The finding says that prosecutors discriminated against black people eligible to serve on juries in North Carolina during a certain time period.  We continue to look for ways to document the influence of race on our criminal justice system in an effort to encourage the development of a more just system.  

What does it mean to succeed and thrive as a law student?

A law student’s goal should be to engage seriously in the substance and practice of law.  Law is largely a professional degree.  Nonetheless, lawyers have extraordinary influence over our society, locally, nationally, and internationally. Law students need to practice thinking about how to use law to shape the society in which we live.   What is the role of justice and equality?  What is the role of government?  What is the obligation of the government to society?  What are our obligations to each other?

Do you have any recommendations for pre-law students as they prepare for law school, particularly as the summer approaches?

Read. Engage in the world around you.  Have some fun.

How have you integrated work-life balance in your endeavors, and what advice do you have for those who are about to immerse themselves in such a demanding career?

My work is part of my life, rather than something I balance against my life.  I have an incredibly rich life.  I try always to remember my priorities and to give each aspect of my life the attention and time it needs.  Sometimes this works better than others.  But, luckily, so far the consequences of overextending have not been dire.

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