Spotlight: The University of Chicago Law School

The University of Chicago Law School is a place where ideas matter. The school has a long tradition of honoring “the life of the mind,” challenging preconceived notions, and pushing its students to think for thinking’s sake and to learn for learning’s sake. Rigorous inquiry and vigorous debate are the cornerstones of the Chicago Law way. As a result, some of the most important developments in legal scholarship over the past century, such as the discipline of law and economics, have come out of Chicago Law.

Chicago - Campus

The University of Chicago opened its doors in 1892, and the Law School followed 10 years later. From 1904 to 1959, the Law School was housed at Stuart Hall, on the main university quad. The University of Chicago is known for its English Gothic style of architecture and breathtaking stone buildings with towers, spires, and cloisters. The current Law School building, on the south edge of campus, is a complement in contrast to that old-world look: Designed by architect Eero Saarinen, the Law School rises as a glass tower, reflected in a zero-depth fountain.

Chicago - Law School

Today’s modern Law School is true to the vision of the University’s first president, William Rainey Harper. He envisioned a new kind of law school, professional in its purpose, but with a broader outlook than what was then prevalent in the leading American law schools. Harper believed that “a scientific study of law involves the related sciences of history, economics, philosophy – the whole field of man as social being.” 

This animating philosophy has resulted in the Law School playing a leading role in legal education since its founding. Chicago Law was pivotal in many of the innovations made in legal education during the last century: the recognition of administrative law, legislation, and comparative law as legitimate fields of law study; the introduction of other disciplines into the law school curriculum and the appointment of faculty outside the law; the extension of the field of legal research from concern with the rules of the law to empirically oriented investigations of the legal system; and the broadening of the curriculum to include clinical as well as academic offerings. Some of the Law School’s clinics, such as the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic and the Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship, were the first of their kind.

Dean Michael Schill, a national expert on real estate and housing policy, started his tenure as Dean in 2010. In a short time, Schill has made a big impact on two different but equally critical parts of the Law School’s mission: law and economics and public interest law.

Chicago - Dean

The discipline of law and economics, considered one of the most important legal developments of the 20th century, was born at the University of Chicago Law School. Because of his work in this field, Professor Emeritus Ronald Coase earned the only Nobel Prize ever awarded to a faculty member at any law school.  He is just one of many Chicago Law faculty members recognized as leaders in the field today. In 2011, the Insitute for Law and Economics was established to further promote the application of economic principles to the law, especially in legal regimes around the world. The Institute hosts an annual Summer School in Law and Economics that welcomed 75 scholars from China and Hong Kong in 2012.

Schill also turned his focus to public interest law, responding to increasing demand from students who wanted to put their legal degree to work for nonprofits or the government. He hired a Public Interest Law and Policy Director to work on supporting these students by finding fellowships and summer and post-graduation work. The Law School also instituted a Pro Bono Pledge, in which students commit at least 50 hours of time to law-related service work, and changed its loan-repayment program to make going into public interest more feasible for these passionate students.

Schill is, of course, just one member of a faculty whose interests, viewpoints, and expertise are as diverse as they are impressive. Chicago Law’s faculty are internationally renowned experts in their fields, in areas as varied as administrative law, constitutional law, corporate law, comparative law, commercial law, criminal law, political science, and philosophy…just to name a few.

They are supported by dedicated administrators who work very hard to make sure students and faculty have everything they need to study and create scholarship. The Admissions Office continues to bring the best and brightest to Chicago Law, while the Office of the Dean of Students works to ensure the law school experience is as rich as possible. International students get their own special attention from dedicated staff. And the Career Services Office is very hands-on in making sure each student knows how to achieve his or her dream career in the law.

Of course, the students get most of the credit for keeping the Law School lively. Besides being vocal, engaged learners and socializers, they also run several dozen student organizations. These cover a broad range of interests, including diverse political viewpoints, legal issues, and academic and social focuses, from international law to technology to wine-tasting. Groups of apparently disparate viewpoints – the Law School Democrats and the Law School Republicans, for example – commonly co-sponsor events or speeches. Respectful but robust discussion is a given. After all, talking about ideas is the Chicago Law way.

The National Network of Law School Officers (NNLSO) is a nonprofit, professional organization designed for the educational and professional development of all law school officers.

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