With the students arriving in less than a month, Indiana Tech Law School is opening the doors of its new building and giving academics, lawyers and community members a peek inside.
This week, the school is hosting three open houses to show off the facility to other Indiana Tech faculty, members of the bench and bar, and donors. On Tuesday, the first group of visitors had an opportunity to wander around the three-story structure.
At the center of the activity was Indiana Tech Law School Dean Peter Alexander.
“We’ve got everything in place,” he said. “We just need to start the school year.”
Since Indiana Tech announced it was launching a new law school, the fifth in Indiana, the school has been criticized and openly questioned about why it wanted to produce more lawyers into a market that is considered saturated.
Locally, Alexander said the school is getting much more support after some early skepticism among attorneys. Nationally, he said he has seen the harsh spotlight shift somewhat to the University of North Texas, which is in the process of opening a new law school.
“Lots of people, as they learn more about us, realize that we are truly trying to be different so it’s not just another law school,” Alexander said. “It’s a school that’s trying to blend theory and practice in a different way, to prepare students in a new way. I think people are beginning to hear the message.”
Classes are scheduled to begin Aug. 26 with orientation starting Aug. 21. The inaugural class is expected to have 30 students, below the school’s original goal of 100, but Alexander attributed the numbers to the nationwide dip in law school enrollment.
A key to the school’s success will be getting accredited. Both a permanent building and a permanent law library are critical to securing approval from the American Bar Association. Looking around the new building, Alexander is confident Indiana Tech will be accredited.
The law school is located on Indiana Tech’s main campus in Fort Wayne.
Its atrium flows into a courtroom which has been situated into a round space. On the back wall hangs a silver seal of Indiana Tech. Underneath is the bench with room for five judges and two witness stands.
The student seats in the gallery are positioned in a semi-circle with the jury box filling the first two rows. On the second level, additional seating circles the courtroom.
The second and third floors of the law school contain the classrooms, outfitted with video and computer equipment, and faculty offices. Spanning all three levels is the law library. The first and second levels house the materials while the third level includes a study room, situated above the courtroom. Circular with big windows, the space is filled with tables and private offices where the students can work in groups.
Alexander said the social spaces and soft-seating areas that fill the building are designed to foster a collaborative environment.
“We want teaching and learning to go on everywhere in the building, not just in a classroom or in an office,” he said. “I think it’s really important for the students to feel so comfortable with us that they aren’t afraid to ask anything even if they think it is the craziest question they ever heard.”
The school will also boast a curated art collection. Beginning July 27, the paintings, historical photographs and courtroom sketches will be hung around the building.
Alexander said having the art was not part of the original plans. However, the law school has been receiving gifts of art focusing on law themes, patriotism, courts and justice that has grown into a collection of “very significant and very expensive pieces.”
With a grant, the law school has hired a curator and, according to Alexander, will be only the second law school in the country with a curated art collection.
The school has the capacity to hold 350 students, making each class about 110 to 115 students. It includes 28 faculty offices, although Alexander expects the school will not exceed 21 full-time faculty. The additional space is intended for visiting professors and others.
“We want to make sure the building is always comfortable and the wide-opening feeling you feel when no one is in the building is the same as when we’re at capacity,” Alexander said.