August 28, 2007

Graduate's sound counsel leads to law school gift

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — The Southern Illinois University School of Law recently received a financial gift from a Des Plaines businessman's estate — even though there was apparently no direct connection to the law school, or Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

It is Frank Schwartz's relationship with an unnamed law school alumnus — and the ethics lessons the alum learned while in law school — that paved the way for the $100,000 gift. More significantly, according to law school officials, the gift points to lessons forged in a classroom that remain important years later.

A long-time Des Plaines resident, Schwartz, who died in March at 96, formerly owned two well-known local taverns.

Dean Peter C. Alexander said he understands Schwartz received financial planning advice from the SIU School of Law graduate during his life, and was so happy with the financial advice that Schwartz frequently tried to include an estate gift directly to the alum. The alum repeatedly declined the offer, citing the Canon of Ethics for attorneys, and saying such a gift would not be appropriate, Alexander said.

Undaunted, Schwartz continued to try and persuade the alum to take a gift. In the end, however, after failing to convince the alum to take his money, Schwartz simply decided to make gifts to the two schools where the alum received training — the SIU School of Law and Loyola University Chicago.

Law school officials tried to learn clues to the anonymous graduate's identity — if only to convey their appreciation, Alexander said.

"We are content to let the alum remain anonymous as long as he or she would like to remain anonymous," he said. "But we are very appreciative of the gift, and we are very proud of our alum for providing very good financial advice and for standing up for the Canons of Ethics that binds all attorneys together."

It's not known whether the alum is male or female. There are approximately 3,200 SIU School of Law graduates since the first graduating class in 1976, with about 120 alumni in Cook County, said Elizabeth Murphy, the law school's director of alumni affairs and annual giving.

Maintaining ethics and standing for principle are more important than the gift, Alexander said.

"It's one of the things that we try to instill in our law students — a sense of professionalism and ethics is a major part of our first-year training," he said. "To think that an alum, perhaps many years out of law school remembers those lessons and continues to stand up for what is right is a very, very important message."

It also points out the potential impact that students, alums and faculty may have on others daily, Murphy said. Following through with lessons learned in the classroom is a tribute to both retired and current faculty for teachings "that continue to make an impact," she said. The law school's current student-to-faculty ratio is 12-to-1.

"It's just great that our students go out and they are in the work force and what they learned here plays an integral part in their day-to-day work, and that they remember their training and education," she said.

Funds from Schwartz's gift are helping pay for several equipment and software-related projects, Alexander said. They include: new seating in the school's law library, updating some library subscriptions, increasing law students development programming and alumni outreach, and purchasing Web design tools to better communicate with the law school's external constituencies.

The law school previously received several gifts provided by people based upon someone they knew on the faculty, or who simply know of the good works the law school provides, Alexander and Murphy said.

"It's part of a pattern where the good work that we do in the building translates into good work for clients … around the world, and people benefit and feel very good about the SIU School of Law," Alexander said.