Originally founded as the law school for the Roman Catholic Lewis University, the Northern Illinois University College of Law (NIU Law) became part of NIU in 1979 making it one of only four public law schools in the state. In 1982, the school officially relocated to its current home in Dekalb, Illinois about an hour west of Chicago. Since relocating to NIU, the college of law has built a highly regarded reputation for job placement especially in the area of public interest and government jobs as well as the school’s commitment to diversity. These strengths are noted in the school’s success in producing elected state attorneys–over 10% of Illinois’ 102 elected attorneys graduated from NIU Law. The law school has also produced several state senators and representatives.
The Juris Doctor degree at NIU Law may be earned either through a traditional three-year. The degree program begins with a comprehensive orientation program that introduces students to various skills and strategies to help them succeed while at NIU Law. In the traditional first-year program, students complete 33 hours of coursework including the six, traditional courses of American Legal education: civil procedure, constitutional law, contracts, criminal law, property, and torts. In their first year, students also complete skill-based courses in legal research, writing and advocacy, and an introduction to the legal profession. In their second year, students complete another semester of constitutional law, an additional course in legal writing and advocacy, and a course in the fundamental skills of practicing law. Prior to graduation, students must complete a course in professional responsibility, an upper-level writing assignment, and satisfy the requirement for experiential learning.
The remainder of students of the 90 hours required for graduation is elective courses where students prepare to transition into their professional careers. Law students may opt to earn one of NIU Law’s six certifications that prescribe foundational courses and practical, experiential learning to help students master a practice area. Earning a certificate prepares students to practice in a specialized area as well as increasing job opportunities in certain fields. The concentrations offered by NIU Law are: business law, civil advocacy, criminal law, international law, law and women’s and gender studies, and public interest law (an area of particular strength at NIU Law).
Juris Doctor candidates at NIU Law also have the option to earn an additional professional degree as part of the school’s joint degree program. Students may earn either a joint J.D. and M.B.A. or a J.D. and Master of Public Administration (M.P.A.). Students must be accepted to both programs independently. In the joint J.D./M.B.A. program, nine hours of law school coursework count towards the 30 hours required to complete the M.B.A. program while 12 hours of the J.D. credits will count towards the 40 hours required to earn the M.P.A. The joint program, therefore, allows students to complete both programs in less time. Joint degrees also provide a significant advantage for graduates as they move towards their professional careers.
Undergraduate students at Northern Illinois University may also opt for an accelerated path to earning their J.D. through the school’s “3+3” program. In the accelerated J.D. program, students complete their four year undergraduate degree and the three year J.D. program in a total of six years. In their final year of their undergraduate studies, students begin their first year of law school. NIU offers over 12 undergraduate programs that are eligible for the “3+3” program. Students apply during their junior year for the program and must meet stringent academic requirements to enroll.
Career and Career Placement
NIU Law has consistently graduated students who quickly find careers in the legal field. Based on the most recent employment outcome data, 93% of all graduates are employed within 10 months of graduation with 94% of those employed finding long-term, full-time careers. Most students who are employed–over 95%–find careers either requiring a law license or preferring the Juris Doctor degree. Over half of employed graduates opt for careers in a law firm setting with almost 43% choosing law firms with less than 25 attorneys. One-third of graduates opted for careers in either government or in the public interest sector–a point of strength in NIU Law’s curriculum. Smaller percentages of graduates chose careers in the business sector or accepted judicial clerkships. Over 87% of all employed graduates remain in Illinois to begin their professional careers.
The Career Services Office at NIU Law offers all students individualized and programmatic counseling to help their professional goals become a reality. These programs include job search preparation, networking opportunities, a robust public interest program, career fairs, and arranging periodic on-campus interviews with employers. These focus areas provide students with a comprehensive approach to identifying and achieving their career goals. First-year students may also participate in a mentoring program that assists their transition to law school and prepares them for the rigors of their upper-level years at NIU Law.
Experiential Learning/Distance Education
All NIU Law students must complete at least three hours of experiential learning on top of the two-semester course in lawyering skills. Students may earn these credits through participation in a clinical program or externship, working on the school’s prisoner rights project, practical skill-based courses or competitive teams, and through pro-bono opportunities.
The law school’s clinical program affords students the opportunity to learn how to practice law but also to be an ethical attorney. The clinic has four practice areas: civil justice, COVID-19 legal response, criminal defense, and health advocacy. Students’ work is overseen by practicing attorneys and faculty members.
In the prisoner’s rights program, students spend two semesters working on cases involving prisoners whose constitutional rights have been infringed. Students–working in pairs–handle all aspects of the client’s case while being supervised by adjunct instructors.
In the externship program, students may earn academic credits working in a legal office (with the exception of a private law firm). An externship is literally on-the-job training as students master the fundamental skills of practicing law while also building their professional networks.
NIU Law also offers a wide range of curricular and co-curricular opportunities for students to solidify the practical components of practicing law. Every semester, students may take a range of skill-based courses that focus on advanced legal skills. Students may compete on one of the school trial advocacy or moot court teams or work alongside classmates on one of the many pro bono opportunities offered each year.
At this time, NIU Law does not offer a distance education program.
Set in one of Illinois’ most idyllic small towns, students at NIU Law enjoy a unique blend of personal, intimate education with affordable living with quick access to America’s 2nd City. The small student body allows for students build lifelong relationships with their classmates and engage with faculty members who know who they are. The school’s many student organizations celebrate the school’s noteworthy diversity and allow students to come together to share their common viewpoints, ethnicities, and passions. The law school is also passionate about race and equity, sponsoring many programs to foster discussions and provide students with opportunities to have meaningful change.
The law school is located on the University’s main campus just off the central quad of the university. To the east, the city’s major river runs just a few blocks from the law school. Along its banks is the DeKalb nature trail which connects many of the city’s parks by a protected greenway. Accessible and affordable housing is located just minutes from campus in an area filled with restaurants and nightlife. When NIU students long for more amenities, the bustling Chicago metropolis is a short drive or train ride from DeKalb. NIU Law offers students a small town with lots of options at an affordable cost.