School of Law celebrates 150th anniversary

Lizzie Rivard

From faculty who have taught for 10 years to law students still in their second year, the School of Law community has good reason to celebrate the school’s 150th anniversary. In honor of the School of Law’s birthday, the NU law community reflected on the institution’s changes and growth, including the effect of work experience on the law school’s classroom environment.

At the beginning of October, NU School of Law alumni and faculty came together with University President Morton O. Schapiro to celebrate the Law School’s sesquicentennial. The occasion presented an opportunity to reflect on the school’s long history.

In 1859, the School of Law, then known as Union College of Law, was the first law school established in Chicago with an inaugural class of 23 students. Today, according to U.S. News, the NU School of Law ranks 10th in the nation.

NU School of Law Dean David Van Zandt initiated a strategic plan in 1998 to help the school respond to changing trends in the legal world. The plan included a focus on higher admissions standards, student work experience and continuing to distinguish NU through research and exceptional faculty.

“Having excellent students and faculty is the bottom line for any academic institution,” Van Zandt said. “As the world has become more competitive, we have to become more aggressive and active.”

The second of these planning processes took place in 2008 and surveyed the basic competencies law students need in order to be successful, he said. This led to the implementation of an accelerated two-year Juris Doctor program through which students complete the same number of credits traditionally earned during a three-year program.

“Northwestern was the first and only top-tier law school with an accelerated JD program,” Van Zandt said.

As a result of these developmental plans, the NU School of Law continues to place an emphasis on student work experience, strongly recommending all applicants work for at least two years before entering the school, he said.

Lori Sorenson, a student in her second year of the JD program and secretary of the Student Bar Association at NU, worked for three years before attending the School of Law.

“It’s one of the smartest things to do if you want to go into an advanced degree of any kind, especially law school,” Sorenson said.

NU also encourages students to familiarize themselves with the current market so they know what legal careers to pursue after graduation, she said.

“The hard work of the school and the administration points us in the right direction for our legal careers,” Sorenson said.

Due to the work experience recommendation, the NU School of Law attracts students who are more mature and diverse, Van Zandt said.

“(Because of work experience), our student culture is very different than that of other law schools,” Van Zandt said.

Prof. Shari Diamond, who specializes in empirical legal research in the jury process, said NU’s program is unique in that it has the ability to improve in the coming years.

“It’s an unusual school that can not only preserve quality but get stronger over time, and NU has certainly done that,” said Diamond, who received her master’s degree and doctorate at NU.

She has also witnessed the changes implemented by the 1998 and 2008 plans firsthand, as students have started to bring their work experience to the classroom.

“If you have someone in an intellectual property class who has worked in a lab splicing genes, it adds to the conversation for everybody,” Diamond said.

These changes to the NU School of Law encourage faculty and students alike to consider how much progress has been made, Diamond added.

“It’s time to stop and take stock and look backwards as well as forwards,” she said.[email protected]