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Dean's Desk: Notre Dame Law in Chicago shows promise

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newton DeanChicago is the No. 1 destination for Notre Dame Law School graduates, followed closely by Washington, D.C., New York City and Los Angeles, with Indianapolis rounding out the top five. But while many NDLS students plan to practice law in a major metropolitan area, until recently there were limited opportunities for them to explore and experience what it is actually like to practice law in a big city.

The Notre Dame Law in Chicago program helps address that need by allowing NDLS students to spend a full semester living and working in the Windy City. All participants work four days a week in an externship placement. Since the program was launched last fall, our students (some of whom have an Illinois student practice license, commonly known as a 711 license) have prosecuted felony and juvenile criminal cases, represented indigent clients in immigration and family law matters, clerked in judicial chambers, mediated civil cases, and developed environmental regulations, all while completing their related course work. While many of the externships are in agencies and nonprofits, Bob Jones, the associate dean for Experiential Programs, is working to place students in corporate counsel offices and financial regulatory agencies as well.

While our Chicago students earn academic credits for their field placements, they also participate in a weekly seminar taught in Chicago by Dean Jones. The seminar is designed to help students maximize the learning from their externships by helping them reflect on ethics questions and their own professional development. Students also must earn additional academic credits through course work that is not associated with the externship.

After a successful first year, we have decided to take the program to the next level by building it a new home in the heart of the Loop. We are in the process of remodeling and furnishing office and classroom space on the second floor of the Motorola Building (the former Santa Fe building). When the doors to this fully renovated space open in the fall of 2013, faculty and students will find office space, a conference room and a 40-person classroom equipped with the latest distance-learning technology.

We recently completed a successful experiment in distance learning when our students in South Bend participated in an international law class that was being taught in our London Law Center. Enabling our South Bend students to share the same classroom experience that is being enjoyed by our Chicago program students will open up more opportunities for students in both locations.

Connecting our Chicago and South Bend classrooms will enable us to recruit adjunct professors to teach courses in niche areas that are important to developing areas of practice. Most of our relatively small number of adjunct professors hail from nearby South Bend. A few Chicagoland attorneys have even been willing to commute to South Bend in order to teach our students on campus. Our Chicago presence, however, will enable us to expand our specialty course offerings. When we no longer have to insist that every adjunct professor make the round trip to South Bend in order to teach a class for Notre Dame, we will be better able to tap into the deep pool of experienced Chicago attorneys in a wide variety of practice areas.

We will share the Motorola Building space with Notre Dame’s College of Engineering and College of Science. For example, the Master of Science in Patent Law (MSPL) program (a venture of the Law, Science and Engineering colleges), and ESTEEM (the Engineering, Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Excellence Masters Program) are also planning to introduce programs in Chicago. All of our on-campus partners, including the College of Arts and Letters, will be able to join us in using the site for panels and small conferences, giving us an opportunity to introduce more Notre Dame programs and faculty to our many Chicago alumni.

I have great expectations for our school’s new move into the Windy City. When NDLS students can fully experience the beautiful Notre Dame campus while taking additional courses as they are being taught in our Chicago classroom, they will have the best of both worlds. And when NDLS students can learn what it is like to practice law in a major metropolitan area before making the commitment to move there permanently, they will be better able to make an informed decision about the direction they would like their careers to take. The Law in Chicago program shows a great deal of promise. I will keep you posted on how it develops.•

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Nell Jessup Newton is The Joseph A. Matson Dean and Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School. She has served as dean since 2009. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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