Education Law Association’s Move to Cleveland-Marshall a Homecoming for the group’s Executive Director

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Cate Smith '95

When Cate Smith ’95 graduated from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, she had no idea she would be coming back to work there years later. In 2009, when she left Cleveland to take a position as Executive Director of the Education Law Association at the University of Dayton, a return seemed even more improbable.  However when the association was looking for a new headquarters, Cleveland State University acted quickly on the opportunity to form an exciting, collaborative relationship with the organization, and the end result has Smith coming to work every day in the law building where she spent countless hours studying 20 years ago.  

The opportunity to form this collaboration came in the early stages of the ELA’s search for a new headquarters, after a conversation with the then-President of ELA and the Deans of the College of Education and College of Law.  The ELA, founded in 1954 with a purpose of improving education by promoting interest in and understanding of education law, specialized in an area of law that fell under Cleveland-Marshall’s commitment to expanding opportunities for students to put to use their law degrees.  Discussions between the ELA and CSU moved forward and the partnership was finalized in late 2012.

The ELA formally opened its office at Cleveland-Marshall in August, with Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson ’83 formally welcoming the association to its new home. The new offices have been open less than two months and already plans are in place to utilize the collaborative relationship for the benefit of CSU and Cleveland-Marshall students.

Cleveland-Marshall now offers a special education law course taught by Dr. Ralph Mawdsley, a past president of the ELA and a faculty member at CSU since 1991, in a new joint appointment with the College of Education.  Smith is also working with professors at both schools on offering supplemental texts produced by the ELA to meet the needs of their curriculum.

In 2015, the students of Cleveland-Marshall will have a special opportunity to learn the ins and outs of education law when the association hosts its annual conference in Cleveland for the first time.  In the meantime, students will have opportunities to sit in on webinars and seminars and interact with association members. The ELA’s membership is made up primarily of school administrators, professors, and attorneys who represent school districts, but also includes professional writers, educational consultants and policymakers.  The events will be a great opportunity for students to see different ways in which they can use their legal education in a unique field.

“Coming to law school, students often have a very narrow vision of the law,” said Smith. “When I speak to people five or 10 years out of law school and ask them if they are working where they thought they’d be, they often say they didn’t even know the field they are in existed, and now realize how applicable having a J.D. is in so many areas.”     

If students need an example of how a Cleveland-Marshall graduate is putting her degree to use in a modern field, they need to look no further than Smith.    She had not intended to practice law in a traditional field when attending law school, though she did work as a criminal defense attorney post-graduation.  Smith had been active in student groups while at Cleveland-Marshall and her continued volunteering after graduation led to an opportunity as Executive Director of the Delta Theta Phi Law Fraternity of which she was a member of at Cleveland-Marshall.  That eventually led to Smith’s current position with the ELA, a perfect marriage of her skills and legal education.

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