New Head of Chicago-Kent’s In-House Law Firm Looking to Expand its Clinics
After running Chicago-Kent College of Law’s tax clinic for decades, Clinical Professor Jonathan Decatorsmith has been appointed as the school’s clinical education director, putting him in charge of the C-K Law Group and its 11 individual practices.
Decatorsmith, who has been interim director since Clinical Professor Richard Gonzalez stepped down in September 2020, has run the tax practice of the C-K Law Group since he was hired by founder Gary Laser in 2000.
“When Gary hired me, it was my dream job, and it continued to become better and better every year I’ve been here,” Decatorsmith says. “And now this. I’m thrilled [at being appointed director], because I will not only keep it going as Professors Laser and Gonzalez envisioned, but our current group has some incredible ideas on how to make it an even better experience for students, and I am committed to taking us to the next level.”
“Jonathan has done a wonderful job both as supervisor of our tax clinic for many years and as our interim director of clinical education,” says Chicago-Kent Dean Anita Krug. “The faculty and I are excited to have him head the C-K Law Group in a permanent capacity. I am sure it will continue to thrive under his leadership.”
The C-K Law Group represents a clinical model unique to Chicago-Kent. Its 11 separate practices each charge client fees. Other schools often operate free clinics or charge nominal fees, and operate with less experienced attorneys.
“For students, you can teach them all the legal skills, and then there’s the business of law. And the business of law is what many of our students need some experience in,” Decatorsmith says. “It’s not just that we’re the best at what we do; we’re the only ones that do what we do. And we do it extraordinarily well.”
Decatorsmith notes that he originally applied to run Chicago-Kent’s tax practice in 1988. He instead worked for the Internal Revenue Service for 11 years, and had just started private practice when Laser called him again.
“He called out of the blue and said, ‘It’s open again, do you have any interest?’ Six weeks later I was on a plane,” Decatorsmith says.
As interim director, Decatorsmith has helped to bring together the C-K Law Group’s individual clinics, which were somewhat isolated by the COVID-19 pandemic, to share their experiences and give each other support.
“We often get so separated with the way we run our practices and students that we lose touch with each other,” Decatorsmith says. “We’ve now been meeting in-person again. We have each other for support; we are after all a collective enterprise, all committed to skills training.”
In particular, the attorneys have been pooling their experiences about “remote lawyering,” for example, going to court via video screen, and how best to adapt to new practices.
As for future plans, Decatorsmith says he hopes to expand the program, first by hiring a new attorney to head the Entrepreneurial Law Clinic, and then by creating and staffing at least one more transactional clinic.
“Some specializations might be estate planning, real estate, or commercial consultation. The students want it,” Decatorsmith says.
Laser, associate professor of law emeritus, founded the Chicago-Kent In-House Clinical Education Program in 1976. His objective was to provide law students with high-quality legal skills training through a broad range of closely supervised live client practices, and also offer meaningful lessons related to the evolving business of law. Thus, he established a law firm within the law school; the firm is staffed by successful practicing lawyers who charge their clients fees and function like partners in the firm, sharing their experiences directly with and mentoring student “associates.”
Over the years, the in-house clinical program expanded to include mediation and transactional clinics, and the employment of staff attorneys, almost all of whom have been Chicago-Kent graduates. The program is nationally recognized for its leading role in clinical education.