I wanted to give back so that the opportunity is available for the next generation.
George Roumell, Jr.
When George Roumell, Jr., joined the Detroit College of Law (now MSU College of Law) as an adjunct professor in 1957, Dwight Eisenhower was president and Barry Gordy was forming Motown Records.
Roumell, who specializes in labor law and arbitration, is the Law College’s longest-serving faculty member. Now in his 80s, he still regularly travels the country to lecture at conferences and arbitrate contract negotiations and disputes. In his decades as an attorney, he’s owned his own law firm and served as president of the State Bar of Michigan and Metro Detroit Bar Association.
Through it all, he’s been in the classroom, where his students have included former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, ’70, and Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Robert Colombo, Jr., ’75.
“I didn’t let up,” Roumell says. “I had the energy. I enjoy meeting young people, and I just enjoy teaching.”
Roumell, a Michigan native, earned his law degree at Harvard University in 1954. He clerked for Michigan Supreme Court Justice Edward Sharpe and for U.S. District Court Judge Theodore Levin before joining a law firm in Detroit.
Once in private practice, Roumell developed an interest in labor law. In 1968, he and two partners opened their own firm, Riley and Roumell. Roumell went on to represent the Detroit Board of Education for more than 30 years, handling the remedy stage of the city’s desegregation case and arguing Bradley v. Milliken before the U.S.
Supreme Court in 1974. He’s served as one of the Detroit Police Officers Association’s impartial umpires for more than 25 years and has written more than 6,000 arbitration opinions.
His tenure as president of the State Bar included the creation of the Champion of Justice award to honor lawyers who have made a contribution to the administration of justice, and the establishment of the Michigan Legal Milestones program, which places plaques around the state to mark sites of significant legal cases. A plaque in honor of Bradley v. Milliken will be hung in September.
Roumell says his work remains compelling because of the opportunities it presents to “learn about society. And sitting there in amazement at what can happen in the workplace. And, at times, changing people’s lives.
“I’ve saved a few jobs,” he adds. “I’ve worked out some contracts that have been very helpful to employers and the unions in difficult times.” Roumell’s work has earned him numerous awards, including the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association’s Frank Murphy Award. In 2003, he received the State Bar of Michigan’s him an honorary LL.D. in 1986.
Roumell’s service to the legal field goes beyond decades of teaching and professional contributions. He’s also a generous donor, both to MSU College of Law and to his alma mater. Roumell’s uncle, Steve, graduated from DCL in 1931. Supporting the school, Roumell says, is like supporting your family. In fact, Steve's granddaughter-in-law, Catherine Grosso, is now an assistant professor at the Law College.
“In order to get the best for your family, you have to invest,” he says. “My uncle represented a phenomenon at DCL. He came to this country from Greece at the age of 12 speaking no English. At the age of 21, he graduated from DCL and passed the bar. Each generation brings a new focus to the school. Because of the opportunity the law school gave him, I wanted to give back to the family and help the family, either through scholarships or financing research, so that the opportunity is available for the next generation.”
A version of this profile originally appeared in the spring 2011 issue of Amicus, published by the MSU College of Law.