Q & A: An Update from the Deans

Dena Cipriano  /  Tuesday, May 1, 2018  /  Categories: In Brief, Issue 100, Fall 2017  /  Rate this article:
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Co-deans Michael Scharf and Jessica Berg
Please begin by telling us about the theme of this issue of In Brief.

JESSICA: We are very excited to celebrate the law school’s 125th anniversary. In addition to updates about the law school and our alumni, this issue of In Brief contains a timeline of our school’s historic events, as well as an article with fun facts most people don’t know about the law school. We have also produced a 125th anniversary coffee table book (available from our website and and a commemorative video that will premier at the all-alumni/faculty reunion dinner on October 6 to celebrate the occasion.

What is unique about the law school’s history?

MICHAEL: From its very start, one idea has exemplified our law school: an optimistic sense of the possible. When launched in 1892, the school had neither endowment nor library. The man offered the deanship didn’t show—instead he accepted a chaired professorship at Harvard. The first building was a small farmhouse on Adelbert Road. Still, two dozen students enrolled—paying the $100 a year tuition. Within a few months, a $50,000 donation arrived to name the school. Local practitioners agreed to teach part time for $3 an hour. And an institution that would become one of the leaders among American law schools was born.

JESSICA: Throughout its history, our law school has consistently been a pathbreaker. We were a charter member of the Association of American Law Schools and on the list of first law schools accredited by the American Bar Association. Our incoming class in 1892 included an African-American man. We were one of the earliest law schools to adopt the “Harvard Case Method” of teaching. We were the first law school to establish a Law-Medicine Center—the field of health law literally started at our school. We are the only law school whose faculty and students have been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize—for their assistance in one of the world’s great international trials. And the 2017 rankings issue of U.S. News and World Report featured us as one of the five most innovative law schools in the nation.

MICHAEL: Over the years, our graduates have shaped the nation and the world. Take for example Fred Gray ‘54, an African-American student from Alabama. Within five years of graduating from our law school, Gray was arguing a seminal voter rights case before the U.S. Supreme Court. He went on to represent Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., secure protection for the Selma marchers and win compensation for the victims of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study—among countless other civil rights triumphs. This year we were pleased to host a law review symposium in honor of his legacy and to mount his portrait in our newly renovated moot courtroom.

JESSICA: Another graduate, Mohamed Chambas ’84, was the international mediator who resolved the Liberian Civil War in the 1990s. He went on to become the first president of the Economic Community of West African States, the United Nations Chief Mediator for the Darfur peace negotiations and was recently appointed to head the U.N. Office for West Africa. Both Fred Gray and Mohamed Chambas have been among the many impressive law school alums invited to deliver the university’s commencement address in recent years.

You were appointed Co-Deans during a difficult time in legal education. How has the law school changed during the past four years?

MICHAEL: The school has continued its tradition of facing challenges with optimism and creativity. During what has been an extremely tough period for law schools across the nation, our school has thrived due to the incredible support of our faculty, central university, trustees and alumni.

JESSICA: When we became Co-Deans, with advice of alumni leaders and the help of our phenomenal faculty, we began to steer the school on a path to be one of the national leaders in integrating experiential education throughout our law curriculum, culminating in an intensive 3L capstone completed in one of our many clinics or through an externship. Since the roll-out of our new curriculum, we have been recognized in U.S. News and World Report, National Jurist and PreLaw Magazine as one of the schools that best prepares their students to be “practice ready.”

MICHAEL: At the same time, we responded to the national decline in applicants and jobs by reducing our incoming class size from 225 to about 140. And we have been able to provide our students increased scholarship support because of the record giving of our alumni. This enabled us to maintain our incoming student credentials at a high level and to increase our graduates’ job placement rate (which is now 93 percent) when many law schools saw significant declines in both. As a result, our school is up seven places in the U.S. News ranking since 2013.

JESSICA: Despite belt tightening, and the launch of new revenue producing programs, we have not sacrificed the quality of our education. Our faculty is now ranked 25th best in scholarly impact in the country. Three of our specialty programs—health law, international law and IP law—are ranked among the best in the nation. Our LLM program was ranked top in the country in the categories of academics and student experience. And our Moot Court and Mock Trial teams just had one of their most successful years. Our Mock Trial team won the regional championship in New York and came in eighth at nationals in Texas, our National Moot Court team came in second place in New York, our Jessup International Law Moot Court team won the Best Brief Award and the Best Speaker Award at the regional competition in Chicago and our Vis International Commercial Arbitration team won a top speaker award at the international competition in Vienna, Austria.

MICHAEL: In addition, due to the generosity of our alumni, local law firms and the central university, we have been able to complete some exciting renovations within our building including the creation of a high-tech IP Venture Clinic conference room and office, the construction of a telepresence classroom for collaborative distance learning and a complete overhaul of our moot courtroom and student café. In addition, this summer we have combined two of our medium-sized rooms on the ground level into a modern “active learning” classroom. We hope you will visit so we can show you these unique new spaces.

What are you looking forward to in the year ahead?

MICHAEL: Our first ever all-alumni and faculty dinner at the Rock ’n Roll Hall of Fame last fall was a tremendous success, and we are really looking forward to this year’s all-alumni and faculty dinner in celebration of our 125th anniversary, to be held at the Western Reserve Historical Society on October 6. We hope you will join us.

JESSICA: We’ve had growing attendance at our other alumni events across the country throughout the year. Our alumni swearing in event at the U.S. Supreme Court last November was an incredible experience, especially with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg joining us at our reception. We can feel the sense of building enthusiasm for the law school and look forward to seeing many of you at our conferences and lectures in Cleveland, and our receptions and one-on-one meetings across the nation in the coming months.

We both so greatly appreciate your support and engagement—financial, providing mentoring, hiring students and participating in our programming. Your commitment to the school makes all the difference!

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