As a sophomore at an East Cleveland high school, Jzinae Jackson told a Cleveland attorney visiting her class that she wanted to go into the legal profession.
This spring, Jackson graduated from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. She has had the opportunity to go back to her alma mater as a volunteer in the program that first sparked her interest in the law and gave her opportunities to pursue it. “Having an attorney from the Cleveland area come to what they call the worst part of Cleveland gave me hope — and look where I’m at now,” Jackson says. “That’s why it’s so important for me to give back to the community, because I never know what impact I may have on [students].”
The Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association’s 3Rs Project, which connects high school students with members of the local legal community, is one of many leadership and community engagement initiatives in which CM Law encourages its students to get involved.
“Our motto and our mission is ‘Learn Law. Live Justice,’” says law school Dean Lee Fisher. “We believe it’s important not only to educate and graduate students who will be great lawyers, but also students who will be great leaders.”
Under Fisher, who became interim dean in 2016 and dean in 2017, Cleveland-Marshall has put even more emphasis on this long-standing value by giving students more structured leadership opportunities.
Alana Jochum is a Cleveland-Marshall graduate and leader. As executive director of Equality Ohio, Jochum leads statewide advocacy for LGBTQ equality.
“I’m literally in my dream job because of Cleveland-Marshall,” Jochum says. There, she says, she felt supported in her individual interests and acquired the leadership skills she needed. While she was a student, she organized a conference on LGBTQ equality and helped lead a student organization supporting LGBTQ causes. “For the people who teach at Cleveland-Marshall, leadership is a quality they not only exude, but they weave it into the lessons,” she says.
Leading and giving back are values Brandon Cox, a 2012 CM Law graduate, embraced as a student and has carried into his professional life as Counsel at Tucker Ellis, a Cleveland law firm. Cox is involved with the Cleveland Metropolitan, Norman S. Minor and Ohio State bar associations. He volunteers with the 3Rs Project; Cleveland Mock Trial; and his high-school alma mater’s (Gilmour Academy) moot court team. He oversees the Stokes Scholars Program students who work at his firm each summer, serves on Cleveland-Marshall’s Board of Visitors, works as an Adjunct Professor at the law school and is involved with the alumni association. “Giving back to the community is a passion of mine because I understand how important it is to expose students who look like me to the legal profession,” Cox says.
Those values are evident in the long list of alumni from the school’s 121-year history who have gone on to distinguish themselves in Cleveland and beyond. Cleveland-Marshall graduated Carl Stokes, the first black mayor of a major U.S. city; Cleveland’s current mayor, Frank G. Jackson; and numerous judges, including Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and Judge Benita Y. Pearson, who was the first female African-American federal judge in Ohio.
The majority of Cleveland-Marshall graduates’ civic contributions are benefiting Greater Cleveland. “We are very proud that we’re a law school that attracts students from more than 25 states,” Fisher says. “However, we’re best known for being Cleveland’s ‘Brain Gain’ law school. That is evidenced by the fact that at least 70 percent of our graduates remain in the Greater Cleveland Area, and there is no law school that produces more Cleveland lawyers and lawyer-leaders than Cleveland State University’s Cleveland-Marshall.”
Jackson attributes this trend to CM Law’s embrace of individuality. “That is why Cleveland-Marshall is able to help retain attorneys in Cleveland and that is why they stay so connected,” she says. Graduates say the school has a strong alumni network with which students are encouraged to get involved.
Students also are out in the community well before graduating, serving clients in the school’s clinics or externship experiences. “We believe in using the city as our classroom, as much as our building,” Fisher says. The school also has established “pop-up practicums,” which are short-term experiences focused on emerging issues. “Whatever the issue is, we’re prepared to pivot on a dime to provide a course on an issue that may be breaking, bridging the gap between theory and practice.”
Another recent development Fisher is proud of is that CM Law rose 14 places in this year’s U.S. News & World Report’s law school rankings, from 127 to 113.
“We’re very proud of the fact that we’re a law school on the rise and we are committed to being a school of both excellence and opportunity,” Fisher says.