Academic Culture

University of Chicago Law School graduates lead and innovate in government, activism, academia, and business, as well as law. For this reason, Chicago aims not to merely certify lawyers, but to train well-rounded, critical, and socially conscious thinkers and doers. Three cornerstones provide the foundation for Chicago's educational mission: the life of the mind, participatory learning, and interdisciplinary inquiry.

The Life of the Mind

What sets Chicago apart from other law schools is our unabashed enthusiasm for the life of the mind - the conviction that ideas matter, that they are worth discussing, and that legal education should devote itself to learning for learning's sake, not just for earning's sake. Chicago students enjoy their classes and do not simply endure them. Eminent faculty teach first-year courses because, as committed teachers, they want to share ideas with students. We are passionate - even intense - about ideas. Our energy creates camaraderie that spills over from inside the classroom to outside the classroom, where we continue our conversations in the more relaxed atmospheres of the student lounge, restaurants, clubs, and sports stadiums.

Participatory Learning

Learning the law at Chicago is a collaborative venture between faculty and students that begins in the classroom but extends far beyond it.

Inside the Classroom

In a Chicago classroom, students share the stage with the professor. The professor does not lecture the students but rather engages them in a dialogue. By asking questions about thorny legal concepts and principles, the professor challenges students to articulate and defend positions for themselves. Known as the Socratic Method, this dialogue presents students with questions, to which there are no easy answers, regarding some of our most complex legal and social problems. This method prepares students to think on their feet when the stakes are high in the courtroom, legislative chamber, or boardroom.

All first-year students participate in our legal writing program under the guidance of one of the full-time Bigelow Teaching Fellows. Through this program, students master a lawyer's most powerful skills - researching, writing, and presenting well-reasoned legal arguments.

In their second and third years, students complete two substantial pieces of writing, either class papers, pieces submitted to the Law School's scholarly journals, or briefs prepared for the Moot Court competition or one of the clinical programs. Also in their second and third years, students can take advocacy and clinical courses that allow them to polish their lawyering skills - such as managing class action lawsuits, negotiating, and arbitrating - under the tutelage of distinguished practitioners.

Inside the Courtroom

Housed in the Arthur Kane Center at the Law School, Chicago's varied legal clinics, the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic, the Institute for Justice Center on Entrepreneurship, the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights, and the Exoneration Project, involve more than 100 students each year and permit them to represent clients with real-world legal problems under the guidance of the clinical faculty.

The Mandel Legal Aid Clinic offers projects in criminal and juvenile justice, employment discrimination, civil rights, housing, and mental health. Students interview clients, investigate facts, negotiate with adverse parties, conduct discovery, draft briefs, draft legislation, and appear on behalf of clients in state and federal courts. The program maximizes its impact by focusing on cutting-edge advocacy that can change entire areas of the law.

For example, students in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Project, in addition to representing children and young adults accused of delinquent or criminal behavior, are often involved in policy reform and community education.

Moreover, the Clinic is engaged in various class action litigation that challenges the restrictions imposed on people confined at state-operated mental health facilities and the lack of procedural protections afforded people who have filed claims of employment discrimination with the State of Illinois.

The Clinic also successfully drafted and sought enactment of state legislation to protect the rights of people with mental illnesses. Finally, the Clinic offers a social service component that allows graduate students from the University's School of Social Service Administration to collaborate with law students on selected cases.

Inside the Boardroom

The Institute for Justice Clinic on Entrepreneurship is one of the few law school clinics that offers free transactional legal services to low to moderate-income Chicago entrepreneurs. Students provide a range of transactional legal services to entrepreneurs principally located in the inner city of Chicago. This clinical experience is designed to give students exposure to transactional legal projects just as the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic gives students exposure to litigation projects. The services provided by the Clinic on Entrepreneurship include business formation; assistance with license and permit applications; contract and lease negotiation; landlord, supplier, and lender negotiation; advice on intellectual property; and basic tax and regulatory compliance.

Outside the Classroom

Chicago students also learn by meeting in groups to explore particular areas of the law, hosting distinguished speakers, attending faculty Works-in-Progress lunches, meeting with faculty, and organizing symposia.

Learning through lunch is a tradition at Chicago. Lunchtime guests have included Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, ACLU President Nadine Strossen, and attorneys that argued Michigan's affirmative action case. Other recent visitors have included Vernon Jordan and Carol Mosely Braun. Students are also encouraged to attend lectures, workshops, and symposia at other divisions of the University of Chicago. United States Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer recently participated in our Shakespeare and the Law conference. 

Students seeking to help advance legal scholarship work as research assistants to premier legal scholars on the Chicago faculty, either during the school year or over the summer. Such work provides a strong credential when seeking clerkships and academic positions.

About one-third of the upperclass students produce publications that feature articles by the world's leading legal minds. The University of Chicago Law Review publishes articles quarterly on every conceivable legal subject. The University of Chicago Legal Forum, an annual event, concentrates each year on a single topic around which it organizes a scholarly symposium. The Chicago Journal of International Law brings a new perspective to international and comparative law.

The Moot Court competition is open to all second and third-year students who want to hone their appellate advocacy skills. Both students and faculty avidly follow the competition. In the first round, participants argue a case before panels of local attorneys. In the second round, ten students brief and argue a different case before a faculty panel. The four finalists work in teams to brief and argue yet another case before a panel that includes distinguished sitting federal appellate and Supreme Court judges.

Interdisciplinary Inquiry

Chicago's devotion to interdisciplinary inquiry is as old as the school itself. It grows out of our conviction that the law does not exist in a vacuum.  We can understand the law and legal methods only if we understand both how the law affects the behavior of the society it governs and how the law reflects the values of that society. For this reason, students do not study law as an autonomous discipline. Faculty draw students' attention to insights from the social sciences, the humanities, and the natural sciences beginning on the first day of class. Faculty members include philosphers, economists, historians, and political scientists, and each year several law school classes are cross-listed with other departments of the University. While Law and Economics was the first interdisciplinary field for which the Law School became famous, our curriculum demonstrates that students and faculty forge ahead in many other disciplines as well.