The John Marshall Law School could become Chicago’s first public law school

The John Marshall Law School is in talks with the University of Illinois at Chicago regarding a possible merger that would establish the first public law school in Chicago.

During the last 16 months, the two institutions have been in preliminary discussions, conducting a financial assessment to determine whether a merger would be feasible and in line with the goals of each institution.

An announcement from John Marshall Law stated:

“The natural alignment of UIC’s public mission and JMLS’s commitment to provide access and opportunity, and to fill Chicago’s justice gap, present a number of opportunities, including potential interdisciplinary programs for students and research opportunities for faculty at both institutions that bridge the disciplines of law with many of the disciplinary strengths of UIC, including the health sciences, urban planning, public administration, the arts, and business.”

John Marshall Law School, a stand-alone private school, was founded in 1899 and has been accredited by the American Bar Association since 1951. The two schools informally discussed a potential partnership in 1998, but negotiations ended in 2001.

A merger could open up a wealth of new opportunities for John Marshall law students. A range of joint-degree and dual degree programs could be established across UIC’s multiple graduate schools. Students would also have the opportunity to explore classes outside of the law school. An accelerated 3-3 program for UIC students, which would allow them to complete an undergraduate degree and J.D. within six years, is also on the table.

“The John Marshall Law School is an independent law school and the possibility of becoming Chicago’s only public law school would allow it to expand its current mission and grow its quality, unique programs within a strong public university,” the law school stated in the announcement.

Before a merger can take place, John Marshall Law and UIC will need to obtain approvals from the UIC Board of Trustees and the John Marshall Law School Board of Trustees, degree approval from the Illinois Board of Education, and approval from the American Bar Association and the Higher Learning Commission, which serves as the regional accreditor for both UIC and John Marshall Law.

Legislative approval is not required.

This would not be the first time an independent law school merged with a public institution.

The University of Massachusetts agreed to acquire Southern New England School of Law, a small private school, in 2010.  That same year, the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education approved the university’s J.D. program, and the University of Massachusetts School of Law - Dartmouth was established. Southern New England Law donated $23 million in assets, mostly in the form of its building.

UMass Law conferred its first J.D. degree in 2011, and received full approval from the ABA in 2016.

At this time, discussions regarding a merger between John Marshall Law and UIC have broadened beyond the feasibility study to include staff, faculty, students, alumni and donors, but the talks remain exploratory.

UIC is designated as a Research 1 University by the Carnegie Foundation, the top categorization for research institutions in the U.S. The university houses 15 colleges and schools with programs in programs in the health sciences, engineering and technology, urban planning, social sciences and business.

If the merger is approved, UIC will join the 65 percent of Research 1 Universities that have law schools. John Marshall Law would be governed by the University of Illinois Board of Trustees, and law students would become students of UIC.

While no decisions regarding changes to the law school’s workforce or operations have been made, the two institutions may consolidate in areas where “efficiencies” can be realized. 

A new name for the law school would likely be established, but some form of the original John Marshall name would remain, according to John Marshall Law’s announcement. One possible name is the University of Illinois at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School.

The law school would remain at its downtown location in the heart of the Chicago legal district.

 

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