Philanthropy is important. A lot of people never have opportunities. That’s what my money can do—create opportunities.
Thomas James, ’05
For Thomas James, ’05, generosity toward MSU College of Law was inspired by the law school faculty’s generosity toward him while he was a student.
James enrolled at MSU Law when he was in his early ’30s and already well-established in a sales career in California. While the move allowed the couple to be close to the family of his wife, a Michigan native, the transition back to being a full-time student was challenging. He credits the Law College faculty with helping him stay focused during his first year.
“The faculty gave a lot to me,” James says. “There wasn’t a whole lot of writing required, no legal analysis, with my previous degrees. I was at about the 55th percentile after my first year in law school. That just killed me, to be in the middle of the pack.
“I sat down with a lot of professors,” he continues. “They were great, they all made time. I brought my GPA up substantially and graduated with honors.”
James quickly decided after enrollment that he wanted to be a litigator. He became heavily involved with the Moot Court & Trial Advocacy Board, and also edited the then-new Journal of Business and Securities Law.
When James became a member of the Law College’s Presidents Club by pledging a gift of $10,000, he made sure to support the activities that he had found so fulfilling as a student. His donation is split among Moot Court, the journal, and student scholarships.
“I feel as though Moot Court is where I really learned the practice of law—it gave me the foundation I use today,” James says. “I give to the journal because I think it’s important that students keep up their academic writing and I want to make sure it carries on.”
The largest portion of his donation is ear marked for scholarships. James says he wants MSU Law to be able to attract the best students and to give hardworking aspiring lawyers an opportunity to pursue their goals.
“Philanthropy is important because a lot of people never have opportunities,” he says. “That’s what my money can do—create those opportunities.”
James gives time, as well as money, to his alma mater. He’s vice president of the MSU College of Law Alumni Association’s executive board. He works with the Alumni Association to raise money for scholarships, fund student activities, and organize social and networking events for fellow Law College graduates. He also helped create a mentorship program that matches first-year students with alumni, helps host a national Moot Court competition each fall, and judges a mandatory oral advocacy competition each year for first-year students.
“Without alumni support, it’s impossible for the Law College to have these activities,” James says. “They were important to me when I was going to school. If you take, it’s important to give back. It’s great to get together with alumni and it’s always great to make a difference.”
James clerked at Gursten, Koltonow, Gursten, Christensen and Raitt in Farmington Hills during law school and joined the firm’s trial practice after graduating. He represents injured parties in car crashes in both tort and insurance claims. The work suits him, he says, because “I’ve always rooted for the underdog. And when you’re representing injured parties, you always are the underdog.
“We get to make a difference,” he adds. “Every single one of my cases represents a person and a family, and we think they’re being wronged in some way. At the end, you did something for that person. You don’t get to say that all the time.”
A version of this profile originally appeared in the fall 2011 issue of Amicus, published by the MSU College of Law.