Tradition & Transformation
Tradition & Transformation
Dean John Corkery Reflects on 43 Years at John Marshall
Tradition & Transformation
Dean John Corkery Reflects on 43 Years at John Marshall
After 43 years at John Marshall, you are about to retire. Tell us about your time here.

I’ve been busy since the day I arrived as an assistant professor in 1973. I originally taught Family Law and Civil Procedure and then Evidence and Professional Responsibility. I also ran the Moot Court Honors Program here for a number of years and coached with Professor Randall Peterson the client counseling team that won the national championship.

In 1998, I became the Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and was appointed Vice Dean under former Dean Pat Mell. I became Interim Dean in 2005 and was appointed Dean in March 2007.

What do you remember most about your first years as a professor?

I remember teaching students and how much fun it was to get paid for doing something I really liked. And I remember preparing and grading exams as being very hard. And it seemed to take forever to grade all those essay exams. But somehow we did.

What did you like most about teaching?

I liked talking with the students about important legal issues, which are generally the most exciting issues of the day. I was, and still am, curious about these issues, and they were pertinent to the courses I taught. The give-and-take was really enjoyable and satisfying.

What has been the best part of being at John Marshall?

The best part has been the students and interacting with them in the classroom and outside of it. Working with the faculty, the Dean’s Advisory Groups on operations, the Deans and the senior staff, and the Board to make the law school more sustainable over the last four years has also been satisfying. Also choosing people for leadership positions and seeing them become great at what they do. I’m very pleased with the leadership team we have now.

How has the school changed?

When I started, the school was basically just the 315 S. Plymouth Court building with a two-story building next door. We called it the Annex. It is where the Chicago Bar Association is now, and we used it for a few classes, a few offices, and law review offices.

Right after I came on board, then-Dean Noble Lee admitted what we called the bulge in the pipe—approximately 1,600 students, in classes going morning, afternoon, and night. The entire library was just the front part of the 315 building, where room 503 is now. We somehow made do.

But things changed rapidly after that because of the boom in students wanting to go to law school. We expanded everything. Our full-time faculty grew from 19 to 80 in 2010.

We expanded the campus. First, we leased three floors in the Rothchild Building in 1975 for the library, and then we bought the whole building a few years later. We had Walgreens as a tenant on the first floor of the 304 S. State Street building for at least 30 years. In the 90s, we later bought the top nine floors of the 16-story building at 321 S. Plymouth Court. The first seven floors are owned by the Chicago Bar Association.

About four years ago, we gave notice to Walgreens, which was a wonderful tenant, that we would not renew their lease on the first floor of 304 S. State Street, because we needed that part of the building for student space and a new entrance on State Street. Shortly thereafter, the school purchased and renovated 19 W. Jackson Boulevard, which was a three-story building between 315 S. Plymouth Court and 304 S. State Street.

So there has been a tremendous change in the physical facilities. But the students and our faculty were good then and are still good today.

Technology also changed. Computers and email came in about 1988. Our first computers had about 64k of memory. We were told we could never use up all the space on the disks we had, but we all did fill them up in a remarkably short time and adjustments had to be made.

As for the students and teaching, I don’t think too much has changed with regards to good teaching since the time of Socrates. The real job of teaching—making sure learning is occurring—is basically the same. And as we all know, educating is not just transmitting knowledge, but making sure our students know how to apply that knowledge and learn how to become effective, responsible, and ethical lawyers.

What do you think are the major challenges that John Marshall is facing?

The biggest challenge is continuing to enroll good students in a competitive market and continuing to adapt our programs to meet the needs of an ever-changing law practice. Increasing our fundraising is another important goal. It’s much harder now to be a tuition-dependent school than it was five years ago. And except for maybe 30 of the 200+ ABA-approved law schools in the U.S., all schools are significantly dependent on tuition to operate well.

What accomplishments are you most proud of as Dean?

This is really for others to determine. Time will provide the ultimate answer. But no law school dean does anything without the help and support of the faculty and the governing Board of the school, and I am no exception in that regard.

The past five years have been the most difficult in the last 40 years from a financial standpoint for all ABA-accredited law schools. It has been very important for the law school to get through this period in a stable and sustainable financial condition. And I believe I have been able to help the law school do this and be ready to move from a position of strength to meet the challenges of what we might call the “new normal.”

Also, I have been very pleased with the new entrance on State Street, the adjoining student commons, and clinic space on the first floor of 19 W. Jackson Boulevard. The law school is really an attractive space and is a real asset to us in recruiting students.

I’m also very pleased with the leadership team, and the faculty, and the faculty’s teaching and scholarly efforts and outputs. We’ve added numerous clinics, including our Veterans Clinic, and have continued to be ranked nationally in Legal Writing, Intellectual Property Law, and Trial Advocacy, which is further evidence of the strength of our faculty.

What’s next for you?

I’m telling people that the one thing I will do is have fun. Exactly how, I’m not sure. I have a year off on a dean’s sabbatical and then I’m looking forward to continuing to teach.

Any parting words of advice for our students?

If you are in law school, you are a talented and accomplished person with a great opportunity to develop your skills and knowledge in a way that can open the doors to opportunities that can expand your life and provide satisfactions that you cannot really grasp now, but the opportunities are there.

As a lawyer, you will be asked to help people decide what to do about issues that may affect hundreds or thousands or just one person. But to that person, those issues will be the most important in the world and may involve finances or, literally, life or death.

This is the privilege and responsibility you will have as a member of the bar. Recognizing that privilege and using your knowledge and skills to help people in the unique way that only you can, can make for a very satisfying life.

And to our alumni?

Many of our alums have been very successful in law and in life. I would ask them to think about how it was when they were struggling to get through law school along with those that helped them along the way and all that their degree has since allowed them to do.

I would also ask them to think about helping our students by hiring them, mentoring them, or supporting them through our law school scholarship fund.

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