Scholarships Transform Lives
A Mission to Transform:
Innovating Legal Education
A Mission to Transform:
Innovating Legal Education

From how we teach our students in and outside of the classroom to how we deliver a legal education in new and engaging ways, John Marshall is championing change.

With our law school’s founding principles of access and opportunity firmly intact, we have spent the last few years strategically assessing what we do and how we do it. The result is a clear vision of where we are heading. In fact, we are already well on our way there.

“Law schools are never going to be as big as they were,” said Anthony Niedwiecki, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs. “We are taking advantages of the changes in legal education to make our school smaller, so that we can give our students an even more individualized experience.”

With that in mind, John Marshall is going to be a leaner law school with a clear focus on what we do best: Preparing our students with the skills, knowledge, and experience to be successful in their careers, and in life.

Building on Our Basics

We have always been the law school of “show, don’t tell.” Associate Dean Margaret O’Mara Frossard doesn’t pause when asked why she came to the law school to lead our Professionalism & Career Strategy program: She saw John Marshall graduates in action.

While serving as an appellate judge, she observed the difference of a John Marshall education firsthand. Our graduates knew how to navigate her courtroom. Their writing skills were outstanding. John Marshall graduates were well-rounded and ready to practice law from day one.

More than ever, real-world experience—working with clients and handling cases—matters. It matters for our students, our community, and, most importantly, to employers who want new hires to hit the ground running. This year we expanded our clinical programs from four to 10, and with a mandate of 168 hours before graduation, we are now requiring more pro bono work than nearly any law school in the country.

Experience Matters

Diane O’Connell (JD ’14) is just one recent graduate proving that a real-world experience can have a real-world impact. O’Connell began working with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless as a student. She recruited homeless plaintiffs in a class action against the City of Chicago, and found she loved working one-on-one with the homeless and fighting to give some power to the disadvantaged group. The case settled, and O’Connell is now a staff attorney with the Coalition. “It was an amazing opportunity,” she said.

Other opportunities abound for our students looking to delve into more traditional firm or business law environments. In 2012, when a Chicago pedicab owner wanted to make sure his business started on a firm legal basis, he came to the Business Enterprise Law Clinic (BELAW). Together, the owner and students realized the city didn’t have an ordinance or rules regulating pedicab businesses.

After real-world legislative research, BELAW students wrote a white paper analyzing the pedicab laws—or the lack thereof—for Chicago and other major U.S. cities, which was provided to a Chicago alderman working on a city ordinance.

Every one of our students must undertake some kind of externship like O’Connell’s, a clinical experience like BELAW, or other practical work outside of the classroom. It’s an expectation we’re proud of. When our students receive their diplomas, they are ready to practice. Not only that, but along the way they often have helped someone in our community.

Expanding Distance Education

Technology is quickly changing how, where, and when we deliver a legal education. The American Bar Association now allows JD students to earn up to 15 credit hours online. With more than 50 courses now available—more than any other law school in the nation—John Marshall is leading the way in online learning.

“We’re excited about our innovations in distance education,” Niedwiecki said. “Our online JD program is best-inclass and we are developing more ways to broaden access and opportunity for both traditional and alternative students.”

Moving courses online also allows our students to find more time out of the classroom and more time in the “real world” for the internships, externships, and clinical work we want them to experience.

We’re expanding our online class roster in part because John Marshall students of the future will have more options than ever in obtaining their degrees. We expect them to take advantage of online courses in order to earn experiential credits outside of Chicago. A robust online course catalog also greatly benefits our working students who already have full-time careers beyond our walls. This year more than 30 students from other law schools took classes through our online JD program.

Technology and the Law

Expanded interest in the intersection of technology and privacy in the law represents a trend that we spotted early and responded to by taking the lead in instruction. This was made manifest when we recently combined our intellectual property and information technology law programs, merging two separate entities into the single Center for Intellectual Property, Information & Privacy Law.

The combination allows us to better educate our students and prepare them for the kinds of emerging issues that impact their clients’ industries. Under the direction of scholars and government experts, we’ve been ahead of the pack in course creation, offering new classes on issues from drones and anti-terrorism to data privacy, for both live and online audiences.

Diversity and Demographics

We are proud of our legacy: John Marshall was the first law school to admit women, one of the first to admit minorities, and made a law degree possible for working adults through our part-time and alternative programs. Today, the face of America is dramatically different from when we first opened our doors. Hispanics make up 17% of the U.S. population, yet their communities remain underserved. The number of African-Americans attending universities is growing, yet not enough students consider a career in law. Rural communities are lacking lawyers, too.

“We’ve always celebrated the spirit of inclusion, and our student body continues to reflect that mission,” said Troy Riddle, Director of Diversity, Student Development & Outreach. “That our students may identify with the people, clients, and community they serve, makes them more compassionate and caring lawyers.”

More and more, law students are not just young college graduates, but also working adults. We have long been the law school of choice for students in search of flexibility and excellence. Part-time or evening students comprise 27% of our student population, and more than 13% of students are over the age of 30. John Marshall remains committed to serving a diverse community of future lawyers. The demographics of our student body reflect that.

The Future Is Now

These are just some of the ways we are meeting the challenges of the future. There is more work to do. Our students deserve to learn in a cutting-edge, comfortable environment, so we will continue upgrading our classroom technology and our facilities. Our transformation at State and Jackson has made a huge difference in increasing our presence downtown and providing our students with a campus they can be proud of.

Passing the bar is a priority, and we have created a new program to support our students’ preparation and help them succeed on the first try. Once they pass, our graduates need to find good jobs. That is why we are investing in a more robust Career Services program. And raising more scholarship dollars—to meet the rising cost of a legal education and attract qualified students—is crucial to our success.

These aren’t new goals. We have always aimed to provide our students with the best legal education and the best experience in order to have the best careers. We’re just going to do all of that in a very different world than when we started more than 115 years ago. We’re looking forward to making our second century even better than our first.

To support John Marshall's innovation, please contact Lauren Prihoda Weiner, Director of Individual Giving, Office of Alumni Relations & Development, at lprihoda@jmls.edu or 312.427.2737 ext. 871.

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