Updated February 8, 2021
Why are CSU Cleveland-Marshall and Akron Law exploring a partnership?
Every university and law school should be looking at collaborative opportunities that can enhance value for its students, alumni, and communities. However, few, if any, other law schools enjoy the conditions that make a potential partnership between Akron Law and CSU/CMLAW so promising. CSU/CMLAW and Akron Law are both excellent public law schools with similar student body profiles and similar histories located only 40 miles apart in Northeast Ohio. Both are parts of outstanding urban public research universities, both are affordable, and many students apply to both law schools. Few other law school partnerships, actual or potential, are likely to provide as many distinctive benefits to their students and their communities.
Both law schools are financially successful and will continue to be the focus of investments by their parent universities. Each law school provides a first-rate legal education and outstanding outcomes for its students at an affordable cost, and each has a long tradition of service and leadership in Northeast Ohio.
A potential strategic partnership is a unique opportunity to leverage the existing strengths of both law schools to create expanded opportunities for students and service to the community. A partnership is not necessary for the continued success of either law school.
How did the idea for a partnership come about?
The deans of the two law schools, Lee Fisher (CSU/CMLAW) and C.J. Peters (Akron Law), frequently speak about issues of mutual concern. In spring 2020, the deans began discussing ways the two law schools might collaborate for the benefit of their students and the community. One result of these discussions was an initiative to cross-register students in a limited number of courses at both law schools during the 2020-2021 academic year. These discussions raised the possibility of a more ambitious collaboration, such as a combination of the two law schools or some other strategic partnership.
What are the key potential benefits of a strategic partnership?
Potential benefits include:
- A larger, more diverse faculty and curriculum for students to choose from.
- Greater access by students and graduates to experiential and employment opportunities.
- Enhancement of the two schools’ existing national reputations in current areas of strength, and the creation of new areas of nationally recognized strength. Examples include cybersecurity and technology, innovation and intellectual property, health law, trial advocacy, constitutional law/criminal justice/civil rights, tax/business law, space law, professional responsibility, and leadership.
- Students could study law in two different urban areas, on the campuses of two distinct public research universities.
- Student recruitment would be enhanced by the unique and unprecedented programs of the partnered law schools.
- Strengthening and expanding of the schools’ public service and community outreach programs, such as free clinics, CLE programs, and public educational programming.
- Opportunities to expand influential research in areas that benefit the legal profession, justice system, and community in Northeast Ohio and beyond.
- A higher national profile for the combined schools than they have as separate institutions.
What is the process for exploring the partnership?
An Exploratory Working Group (EWG) has been formed to explore the desirability, feasibility, and basic structure of a potential partnership between the two law schools. The EWG will submit a report and recommendations to the two university presidents by January 31, 2022. The EWG is co-chaired by Deans Peters and Fisher and consists of equal numbers of faculty, administrators, staff, students, and alumni from each law school, as well as representatives from each legal community.
What is the timetable for the process?
The EWG began its work in late September 2020. Because of the many complex issues involved, the EWG’s work will extend into the 2021-22 academic year, when the EWG will submit a report to the presidents of both universities by January 31, 2022.
It is likely that some collaborations will be recommended and implemented before that time. Upon receiving the EWG’s report, the presidents and the Boards of Trustees will decide whether to proceed with a combination or other strategic partnership between the two law schools. Any strategic partnership likely would require approval from the law schools’ and universities’ accrediting organizations and from the Ohio Department of Higher Education. Representatives of both law schools would then work to develop an implementation plan.
Would a combined law school save the universities money?
Cost savings is not a goal of the proposed partnership. While some cost savings from efficiencies and economies of scale are possible in the medium to long term, the universities view the potential partnership as a unique opportunity to invest in expanded opportunities for students and graduates, expanded service to the people of Northeast Ohio, and the building of a unique partnership with a strong presence in two urban communities and at two urban public research universities.
If the partnership includes a combination of the two law schools, what would the new law school be named, and what university name would appear on graduates’ diplomas? Would both locations continue in use?
It is premature at this point to speculate about these details, or even about whether a combination of the two law schools is the likely outcome. All details of a partnership would be decided based upon input from the EWG and from students, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the community during the implementation process. It is safe to say that one key advantage of a partnership likely would be the ability to leverage both existing locations, with their proximities to the major legal markets in Northeast Ohio and their connections to two urban public research universities.
If the proposed partnership is not approved, does this mean one of the law schools will close?
No. Both law schools are financially successful and will continue to be the focus of investments by their parent universities. Each law school provides a first-rate legal education and outstanding outcomes for its students at an affordable cost, and each has a long tradition of service and leadership in Northeast Ohio. A potential strategic partnership is a unique opportunity to leverage the existing strengths of both law schools to create expanded opportunities for students and service to the community. A partnership is not necessary for the continued success of either law school.