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Widener Law announces split into two schools, new dean in Delaware

Anne Hoffman/Delaware Public Media

Major changes are coming to Widener Law school.

The school announced Friday the American Bar Association has approved splitting its Wilmington and Harrisburg, PA campuses into two separate law schools.  The Wilmington location will now be called the Widener University Delaware Law School and the Harrisburg campus will be called the Commonwealth Law School.

"What this will mean for students will be enhanced student services and educational offerings. In addition, we hope that independence will motivate more become involved with the law school," said Law School President James Harris, adding that the change "will benefit our students with more externship opportunities, more mentoring and more professional opportunities."

Both the Delaware Law School and the Commonwealth Law School will have opportunities to collaborate while allowing each campus to showcase its individual strengths.

The Wilmington school also announced that its new dean will be well-known litigator and First Amendment scholar Rod Smolla.

The incoming dean has argued cases in the US Supreme Court and previously served as President of Furman University in South Carolina. He was even portrayed on the small screen by actor Timothy Hutton in a made for TV movie called “Deliberate Intent.”

Law School President James Harris said that securing Smolla as a dean is a win for the school.

"When we went through the search process, we were able to get our first draft pick," said President Harris.

Harris went on to praise Smolla’s skills as an attorney, teacher and administrator.

During his formal introduction at Widener Friday, Smolla praised Delaware’s unique role in the legal world.

"This is one of the smaller states in the United States. But it projects an influence on the law of the United States - and on the law of the world - vastly disproportionate to its size," he said.

Smolla says the Delaware Code of Corporate Law and its Court of Chancery are a large part of that influence.

The incoming dean adds he was attracted to Widener by what he called a spirit of cooperation and bipartisanship in the First State.

"That’s true of the state’s politics, and its business community and its legal community. And that’s the way I like to do business," he said.

Because Widener is the only law school in the First State, Smolla says that as his first act as Dean he wants to recognize all practicing Delaware lawyers as honorary members of the school.

Smolla assumes his role as dean on July 1, the same day the two campuses will become separate law schools.

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