Camille M. Davidson, William Enyart, Annette A. Eckert

SIU Law in the Metro East: SIU School of Law Dean Camille M. Davidson, former U.S. Rep. and SIU Law alumnus William Enyart and retired Judge Annette A. Eckert celebrate SIU Law’s expansion into Belleville.

August 17, 2022

SIU School of Law expands footprint to the Metro East

by Pete Rosenbery

BELLEVILLE, Ill. — Southern Illinois University School of Law just expanded to the Metro East. 

Beginning this month, third-year law school students will participate in the inaugural Metro East Criminal Justice Clinic at the Southwestern Illinois Justice and Workforce Development Campus in Belleville, the former Lindenwood University campus. Students will live and take classes on the campus while working at various state and federal offices in the region.

University and Belleville city officials announced the program at a news conference on Aug. 15.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and SIU officials, including SIU System President Dan Mahony, were among those attending the announcement.

The satellite location provides a unique opportunity to expand services and collaborate with other campus tenants, including the Illinois State Police Forensic Institute, the Southern Illinois Law Enforcement Commission, a police training academy offered by Southwestern Illinois College and other nonprofit organizations. The School of Law also looks forward to hosting admissions events for prospective students and engaging with alumni and attorneys in the region. 

Long-sought presence in region

The law school’s physical presence in the region has been a long-term goal dating back more than 25 years, current law school Dean Camille M. Davidson said. She noted St. Clair and Madison counties have the largest number of attorneys in Illinois outside of the Chicago area and pointed out that SIU Law is the only public law school within about two hours of Belleville.

“We are excited that this is coming to fruition,” Davidson said. “Because of its close proximity to St. Louis, there are federal and state court opportunities in Illinois and Missouri. This is a wonderful opportunity to expand the law school’s footprint so that we remind folks that SIU School of Law belongs to all of Southern Illinois and serves the whole region.”

Like the Saluki Step Ahead transfer agreements with Southwestern Illinois College and St. Louis Community College, Chancellor Austin A. Lane said, the program further connects SIU Carbondale to the Metro East. And the initiative fits well with the university’s strategic plan, Imagine 2030, and its pillars that address partnerships and student success.

“A lot of people worked hard to make this day a reality,” Lane said. “They had the vision and imagination to see our students getting hands-on experiences to prepare them for their future careers as they serve a community in the Metro East.”

Belleville Mayor Patty Gregory is also excited by the law school’s presence in the Metro East.

“We are thrilled that Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s law school is coming to the Southwestern Illinois Justice and Workforce Development Campus, with their new experimental law program,” she said. “This program will allow students to gain experience directly within numerous law entities throughout St. Clair County. As this program grows, it is my hope that within the next several years, Southern Illinois University School of Law will offer additional programs from our Belleville location.”

Will graduate ‘practice-ready’

SIU School of Law is known for producing attorneys who are ready to hit the ground working.  Students who participate in the semesterlong program will work full time. While students gain immersive experiences in the justice system, the community will benefit from the legal services the students provide under the supervision of practicing attorneys. Students will make court appearances, counsel clients, negotiate settlements and prepare documents.

Faculty include retired 20th Judicial Circuit Judge Annette A. Eckert. She sees a “win-win, not only for the students, but for the community. This brings a lot of enthusiasm and life to these offices, the courtrooms and courthouses that will benefit the legal community in the Metro East as well.”

Other judges who will be involved with the program include Chief Judge Nancy J. Rosenstengel of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois and SIU law school alumna, and Illinois Fifth District Appellate Court Justice Milton Wharton, St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Robert Haida and Madison County Circuit Court Judge Sarah Smith.

Professor Shelly Page, director of experiential education at SIU School of Law, said, “One of the things that we pride ourselves on at the SIU School of Law is our students graduate practice-ready. It’s one thing to sit in a classroom and learn book knowledge, older cases and the black-letter law of statutes. It’s another thing to actually graduate and have that experience under your belt in the area where you will potentially have a job.

“The opportunities for these students to work and be taught by practicing and former judges is phenomenal. It’s an experience that I never had.”

Busy schedule/collaborative opportunities

“The Metro East has a very well-known and flourishing reputation in the legal field. For students to be able to come here and not just see it, but participate in it as Supreme Court Rule 711 students and present motions and appear before judges is something that will be a great capstone to their third year,” Eckert said. “I think we will have a great semester of them not only practicing law in the courtroom, but experiencing things that, but for this program, they wouldn’t be able to experience.”

Camille Davidson and Gov. JB Pritzker

SIU School of Law Dean Camille Davidson and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker attend the press conference to announce the Southwestern Illinois Justice and Workforce Development Campus in Belleville.