Thomas J. Miles, AM’96, PhD’00

(University of Chicago Law School)

Meeting the moment

In a society redrawn by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Law School’s intellectual leadership is needed more than ever.

In moments of change, society often looks to the legal system to provide solutions. This has been true in the past 18 months. The law shaped much of our response to the recent crises in public health and the economy. These convulsions were accompanied by other developments that were deeply entwined with the law—rancorous political divisions, protests over policing and racial inequities, a tense election and contested transition, the events of January 6, the rollout of access to vaccines, and now a transition to a new postpandemic way of life.

These challenges impart new relevance to the study of law and the education of law students. The Law School has long led in advancing innovative ideas and in providing unmatched legal training. The excellence of our faculty and the influence of their ideas are the bedrock of that intellectual leadership. We have added seven new faculty members in the past three years, with specialties ranging from energy law to criminal law. They continue the Law School’s founding tradition of interdisciplinary scholarship, bringing expertise in fields as varied as quantitative economics and legal history.

These exceptional colleagues joined a faculty that publishes prolifically and shapes entire fields of legal scholarship, and their expertise and ideas have tremendous impact beyond the academy. Just in the past year, Law School faculty members published more than 200 op-eds and significant public writings, and were quoted in many hundreds of media interviews.

With this faculty and the importance of law at this moment, it is no surprise that growing numbers of students aspire to learn here. This year applications for the JD class rose by a staggering 33 percent over the prior year. Once enrolled, these students receive an education emphasizing participatory learning, a signature feature of the Law School, and while the modality of learning changed to remote and then hybrid during the pandemic, our thinking has remained as rigorous and our exploration of ideas as bold as ever.

Our clinical program, which now encompasses more than a dozen offerings, is flourishing and imparts key skills to prepare students for professional practice. Two professors from practice now augment the experiential learning opportunities for students. Our Doctoroff Business Leadership Program directly prepares students for leadership and teamwork wherever their professional careers take them. A newly accelerated three-year JD/MBA Program with Chicago Booth offers the best-in-class joint degree in business and law. Graduates pursuing public interest and public service careers are eligible for postgraduate fellowships and loan forgiveness. In all of these ways, the Law School prepares sharp, analytical minds and creative, effective leaders for a range of professional endeavors.

Immediately upon graduation, our students begin exciting careers with top employers in private practice, public interest, business, and government. One measure of our graduates’ successes is the rate at which they receive judicial clerkships. The past two years the rates reached all-time highs. The October Term 2020 saw seven of our graduates clerking on the Supreme Court, and another nine will clerk there in the October Term 2021.

Our community continues to flourish because of the extraordinary support of our alumni. For example, the Law School recently launched the Elements Fund for Student Scholarship, an endowed scholarship fund which, in the proud tradition of transformative gifts like those that fund the Rubenstein Scholars Program and the Cafaro Scholarships, will help us continue to attract the best and brightest with scholarship support for outstanding students at the Law School.

These inspiring accomplishments, despite the trying times, reflect the strength of the Law School community and its commitment to transformative legal education and scholarship. As we begin returning to campus, we look forward to welcoming new faculty members and new classes to the vibrant intellectual life at the Law School.

Thomas J. Miles, AM’96, PhD’00, is the dean of the Law School and the Clifton R. Musser Professor of Law and Economics.