Chicago’s First Public Law School

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Chicago, Illinois will open the doors to its first and only public law school this month; closing is expected August 19. The John Marshall Law School (JMLS) officially received approval from the Higher Learning Commission, completing the last step in the accreditation process. It will be UIC’s 16th college, adding important educational and social opportunities for JMLS and UIC students. As a law and society scholar-activist, I was especially pleased with the news of the merger. The implications for UIC students and JMLS students are great. 

As a public university in a major U.S. city, UIC provides access and opportunity to students from underserved communities. This merger will help fill a glaring need for justice in a city wrought with systemic inequalities. Hopefully, the university will work hard to ensure the law school’s integration into the university system. JMLS brings with it more women and faculty of color which necessarily increases the university’s diversity. UIC and JMLS students could both stand to gain more of the talent, experiences, and networks of diverse faculty and staff. 

I remember being so excited to welcome two Black women law faculty when I was student at DePaul College of Law. Professor Song Richardson and Professor Cynthia Roseberry showed me that I had more options than practicing at a private law firm, a public defender’s, or state’s attorney office. They showed me that I could be a professor. As a sociology graduate student at UIC, taking classes on Black Feminism with Andrea Ritchie and on race, gender, class, and the law with Dr. Beth Richie affirmed that I belonged in that academic space. They gave me community. They saw me. I want more underrepresented students to experience this visibility and affirmation. 

Implications of the merger

JMLS as a public law school connected to the resources of a Research 1 university also benefits the legal profession as a whole. For instance: 

  • Law students will be able to engage in interdisciplinary work and will have access to more joint degree programs. This will yield more diversity in practice areas and career paths, such as in academia, public agencies, private firms, corporations, non-profits and the like. 
  • Law school is very expensive. JMLS has the lowest annual tuition rate for full-time programs of all the Chicago-based law schools. Kent IIT and DePaul are a close second and third. Each of these schools also have part-time law degree programs, allowing them to reach more diverse students. Part-time and evening programs makes space for students who cannot afford to stop working to go to school full-time. It also provides opportunities for single parents and people switching careers. 
  • The new UIC JMLS students will have more access to the larger university system, including its healthcare benefits and medical facilities. JMLS offers new specialized resources for social justice, criminology, law and justice, and other social sciences students and professors. UIC’s sociology graduate department provides no specialized track for law and society scholars, but with JMLS, this becomes a more realistic prospect. Alumni networks will expand. These resources will add diverse intellectual thought to Chicago’s legal community and the profession as a whole.

Being the first and only often brings with it missteps and obstacles to navigate. Still, adding a public law school to one of the largest legal markets in the country will lead to more resources and options for increasing diversity in Chicago’s legal community. The legal profession will be more robust and inclusive because of JMLS’s new identity as a public law school.

By: Takeia R. Johnson