Opportunity for a Voice

Barbara McQuade talks about her transition from the U.S. Attorney’s office to the University of Michigan and MSNBC.


The studio was practically bare, containing a single camera, two pop-up lights, a few screens, and only two chairs — one for the camera man and one for Professor Barbara McQuade. She sat a few feet off the wall with a backdrop of the University of Michigan (UM) campus positioned behind her head, just large enough to fill the frame of the camera. The camera man placed a small earpiece in her left ear while she checked her iPhone for any last minute updates and instructions.

Suddenly, a voice came over the speaker system and welcomed her to Meet the Press with Chuck Todd. This was McQuade’s second appearance on MSNBC of the day, and she had one more scheduled for later that night.

It all started in early May — just a matter of days after she had begun her new job at the University of Michigan Law School — when McQuade got an unexpected call from an unknown number. It was a representative from MSNBC inviting her to speak about her former colleague, US Attorney Sally Yates’ testimony regarding Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Intrigued by the offer to help others form informed personal opinions about current events, McQuade accepted.

McQuade had served as the US Attorney for eight years in the Eastern District of Michigan, and had been the Assistant US Attorney for 12 years prior. On March 10, 2017, McQuade, along with 45 other federal prosecutors, was asked to resign by President Trump and Attorney General Sessions.

“Once Trump won the presidency I realized that I was going to have to leave,” McQuade said.

It is tradition that when the presidential party flips from democratic to republican, and vice versa, the appointed US Attorneys are replaced by representatives from the new president’s party. Therefore, when President Trump was elected, McQuade knew she needed to start looking for the next step in her career.

“When I had the opportunity to return to my alma mater, the University of Michigan, I was very excited and jumped at the chance,” McQuade said.

Despite having never expected to become a professor, McQuade has quickly fallen in love with her new career.

Teaching is an opportunity to reach, influence, and inspire the next generation of lawyers,” McQuade said. “At this point in my career what I really hope to do is work that has a positive impact. I always tell young people that work should be interesting, challenging, and important. And I find that teaching law students is all three of those things.”

McQuade views her recent venture into commentary as an exciting way to serve the community.

“It’s fun to do, it’s fun to have a voice, and [it’s fun] to feel like you are helping to inform the public so that they can make informed opinions about current events,” McQuade said.

With the recent release of the first indictments of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election, McQuade has been featured on MSNBC almost everyday; she has spoke on several different programs including The Rachel Maddow Show and Hardball with Chris Matthews.

With an undergraduate degree in Communications from UM, it is no surprise that McQuade speaks so comfortably in front of the camera. However, she attributes her success in public speaking to the practice she got while in the courtroom.

“I always used to get a little bit of an adrenaline surge whenever I would appear in court, and it is sort of the same feeling when I appear on television,” McQuade said. “But I always try to embrace that. I think that a little nervousness and a little adrenaline is a good thing.”

Just a few hours before prime time, McQuade’s phone will begin to ring with different producers trying to book her for an appearance on that night’s program. Once she has scheduled a show the producer will give her a general topic, and she will go through some last minute preparations.

“I read media accounts, I read commentary, I read some legal blogs, I talk with people about them, I listen to podcasts and television interviews,” McQuade said. “I try to inform myself as best I can with the facts, so I can provide some informed analysis about them.”

In addition to television commentary, McQuade has had the opportunity to write multiple opinion pieces for publications such as the Daily Beast and the Washington Post.

While her career now is fulfilling and challenging, McQuade looks at some of her accomplishments from her time as US Attorney as being her greatest professional successes.

“We formed the office’s first ever civil rights unit,” McQuade said. “Where we did some pretty spectacular things including filing lawsuits that resulted in the building of an Islamic school in Pittsfield Township, after they were denied zoning privileges for what we believe to be pretextual reasons.”

In addition to the Islamic school settlement, her civil rights department also worked out an agreement to build a mosque in Sterling Heights under similar circumstances.

McQuade misses her colleagues at the US Attorney’s office, and their mission of helping the community; however, she enjoys her new environment at UM just as much.

“Picking between the two careers is like picking which of my children I like the best,” McQuade said. “I love them both, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the chance to do both of them.”