University of Akron School of Law and Cleveland Marshall College of Law looking to merge

The University of Akron School of Law and Cleveland Marshall College of Law are considering partnering, a move that would make it the largest law school in Ohio and one of the largest law schools in the nation.

Combined, they have about 800 J.D. students.

Both campuses — which are about 40 miles apart — would remain open and students could take classes at both locations. They could also entertain taking online offerings.

Their parent universities recently announced the formation of a Joint Exploratory Working Group to study the move.

It would appear to be a first. In 2015, Hamline University School of Law and William Mitchell College of Law, both based in St. Paul, Minn., merged to create a new school, Mitchell Hamline School of Law. However, the Hamline students moved to the William Mitchell campus. That merger came as enrollment was cratering shortly after the Great Recession.

The schools said this merger is not born out of necessity: “Both law schools are successful and financially strong,” according to a Q&A on the merger.  “A potential joint operating model is a unique opportunity to leverage the existing strengths of both law schools to create expanded opportunities for students and service to the community.”

The working group for this merger will be co-chaired by CSU Cleveland-Marshall Dean Lee Fisher and Akron Law Dean C.J. Peters and will include representatives of the faculty, staff, alumni and students of both law schools, as well as representatives from both legal communities.

It will determine the feasibility, timeline and key components of investing in a new operating model that would create new synergies and opportunities for legal education. Recommendations will be shared with the university presidents later this fall.

If appropriate, the plan would go to the American Bar Association (ABA) and the state for final approval in 2021. Both university presidents and UA and CSU Boards of Trustees support the formation of the Joint Exploratory Working Group.

“The opportunity to work together on something truly special and unique that builds upon our respective track records of academic excellence and student engagement is real,” said Harlan Sands, president of Cleveland State University. “Our collective ability to meet the changing needs and expectations of our legal and business communities in Northeast Ohio is greater if we work together.”

UA President Gary L. Miller agrees. “We have an exciting opportunity to think about how we might redesign legal education through a creative partnership of two outstanding law schools. We hope to leverage the great variation in circumstances in the Cleveland-Akron-Canton urban corridor.“

The two law schools announced earlier they would cross-register eight courses for the fall 2020 semester as an opportunity to leverage the curricular strengths of both law schools and to expand curricular opportunities for law students.  

CSU Cleveland-Marshall, founded in 1897, was the first law school in Ohio to admit women and one of the first to admit African Americans. CSU Cleveland-Marshall is the highest ranked public law school in Northern Ohio.

Akron Law boasts the highest first-time pass rate among Ohio public law schools on the most recent Ohio bar exams, and its trial advocacy teams have won four national championships and 19 regional titles.

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