Jennifer Gerarda Brown
Jennifer Gerarda Brown (Gary Lewis)

The new $50 million Quinnipiac University School of Law Center is built around its expansive library. Instead of a hushed corner of the building, the library is an open space where students cross paths and conversations are encouraged in seating areas and lounges.

The new law center was open for business on Aug. 18, when 92 1Ls entered its classrooms to begin their formal training as lawyers. During a tour of the brand new 150,000 square-foot building, Jennifer Gerarda Brown, dean and professor at the School of Law, showed off new “collaborative classrooms,” law clinic offices and meeting areas.

“I feel like I’ve lived and breathed this building,” she said.

The opening of the new law school center on Bassett Road in North Haven marked the completion of a $240 million investment in the campus, which houses the university’s graduate schools in medicine, health sciences, nursing, education and social work.

University President John Lahey said the expansion from Quinnipiac’s Mount Carmel Campus has been in the works for the past five years. The law school, which currently enrolls 292 students, will have room at the new center for up to 500 students, Lahey said.

Prominent features of the new space include a Dispute Resolution Suite and Mock Trial Practice Room for the school’s highly successful student competition teams—Mock Trial, Moot Court, and Society for Dispute Resolution.

Because of its proximity to the medical and nursing schools, Brown and Lahey said the law school will be able to work more collaboratively with professionals and students in those fields. “Health care is an area where dispute resolution and mediation skills are greatly needed”, Brown said.

Lahey said the law school is looking forward to growth because of the strength of its programs that focus on clinical and experiential learning. “There’s been a decline in the demand for lawyers, but even with the decline, we’re the only school in the country to spend $50 million for a new law school. It shows that Quinnipiac has a long-term strategic commitment to law. It reflects my confidence and the university’s confidence with Jen Brown.

Brown, a dispute resolution teacher and scholar who became dean of the law school early last year, served on the university’s planning committee for the new center. She said building a collaborative atmosphere was a priority of the construction. New classrooms include central tables where students can discuss their work. There is also a state-of-the art room where computers can be plugged into large monitors, to allow the sharing of examples of legal briefs and other documents among students.

Brian Adams, project manager with the architecture firm that designed the center, Centerbrook, said creating the law library presented the greatest “challenge and opportunity.”

“Law students need to reference past decisions, which requires a large amount of information access to a large number of bound books and periodicals,” Adams said. “Even with large amounts of information available online, the challenge was creating a space for printed law books, while providing quiet flexible study spaces.”

The need to provide both areas for quiet reading, and open, inviting spaces, was accomplished by providing both sitting and study areas. “There was a heightened awareness of acoustics and sound control,” Adams said.

Brown said it was important for elements of the old campus to be incorporated with the new. “We want our alumni to feel at home here too,” she explained.

To accomplish that, tall classical carved columns that are a feature at the Mount Carmel Campus were recreated in the law library. Another familiar look in the new space, are the light fixtures in the hallways. “We worked with closely with the university to transfer from the old to the new building nearly 100 custom wall sconces,” said Adams.

The sconces, shaped like partially opened books, have quotations from literature etched into the class. “We also brought a custom paint stencil design to the new building, one that had greeted you on arrival at the earlier school of law,” he said.

As students walked from classes and spoke quietly in mediation rooms behind frosted glass, Brown said seeing the new building in use is “tremendously exciting.”

Now, with students populating the building, is its easier to imagine how the building is going to fulfill our goals,” Brown said. “We are already seeing students collaborating in the group study rooms and in the many offices of the student organizations. We’re already seeing more clinical participation, with students gaining this experiential learning of the law. And we are already crossing paths with students from the education, medicine and health sciences graduate schools in the cafeteria and as they pass through the law school.”

Brown said what she finds most gratifying, is how the new law school center was able to physically embody the law school course offerings and aspirations to “build better lawyers.”

“We were able to express not only what we are currently doing with our programs and legal education,” Brown said, “but one year ago, two years ago, when we spoke with the architects, we were also able to express our aspirations and now we can see how this building is able to help us achieve those aspirations.”