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Widener University Establishes Two Independent Law Schools

Widener University is pleased to announce the American Bar Association has approved its application to split its School of Law, which has campuses in Harrisburg, Pa. and Wilmington, Del., into separate law schools that will operate independently of each other, but remain part of the university. They will be led by separate deans.

Rod Smolla will serve as dean of Widener University Delaware Law School, the name for the school in Wilmington, Del.

Christian A. Johnson will serve as dean of Widener University Commonwealth Law School, the name for the school in Harrisburg, Pa.

The change in status and new names will take effect July 1, the day both deans begin their tenures. New websites for the schools debuted today at and

“This is an exciting time for Widener University and its law schools,” Widener President James T. Harris III said. “The Widener School of Law has offered exceptional legal education for over 40 years. During that time, the two law campuses have grown and developed their own strengths and unique identities. Both schools will benefit from this change as it will allow each campus to showcase their strengths and individuality. This change will allow us to enhance our student services and educational offerings, with separate law school administrations dedicated to the different locations.”

“We are equally excited to announce the appointment of two exceptional deans to lead our law schools,” Harris continued. “I am confident they will each provide fine leadership to ensure that we continue to offer world-class legal education that graduates well prepared lawyers and responsible citizens.”

The new school names were selected after extensive listening sessions at both locations.

Widener University Commonwealth Law School was chosen for Harrisburg as a reflection of Pennsylvania’s status as one of only four commonwealths. The university community liked the name for its sense of history, distinction and its allusion to state government. It also complements Widener’s strong program in government law, which is a key component to the Harrisburg location’s identity. In addition to the Law & Government Institute, the school is also strong in environmental law and sustainability, and business law.

Delaware Law School harkens back to the institution’s origins while it also reflects the school’s commitment to the “Delaware way” of practicing law. That comes with a distinctive culture, an emphasis on civility and a high level of professionalism – all values Widener encourages students to carry into their own law practices. The name also highlights its proud role as Delaware’s only law school. It is home to the Institute of Delaware Corporate and Business Law, the Family Health Law & Policy Institute and has strong environmental and advocacy programs.

Each of the new deans has had a multi-faceted career as an educator, scholar and attorney.

Dean SmollaSmolla is currently a visiting professor of law at the University of Georgia School of Law. He previously served as the dean of University of Richmond School of Law and Washington and Lee University School of Law, and as president of Furman University in Greenville, S.C.

A native of the Chicago area, Smolla graduated first in his class from Duke University School of Law and earned his undergraduate degree from Yale University. He has authored and edited many books for general audiences, legal treatises, law school casebooks, law review articles, and pieces for newspapers and magazines. The FX television network turned his book “Deliberate Intent: A Lawyer Tells the True Story of Murder by the Book” into a movie with Timothy Hutton in the role of Smolla. His book “Free Speech in an Open Society” won the William O. Douglas Prize, which recognizes distinguished contributions to freedom of speech. An active litigator, Smolla has presented oral arguments in state and federal courts throughout the nation, including the U.S. Supreme Court.  His many service activities include eight years as a director of the Media General Corp., service on the executive committee of the board of the American Arbitration Association, and an appointment as a commissioner on the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education.  Smolla has taught a wide variety of courses in the law school curriculum, and has been the recipient of many teaching awards.

“Delaware Law is an outstanding institution and I am honored to have this opportunity to serve as its dean during this important time in its history. I am looking forward to becoming an active participant in the Delaware legal community and building on the school’s already strong relationships with the bench and bar, and distinguished alumni throughout the region,” Smolla said. “I am looking forward to working with my law faculty colleagues, and to energetically participating in the academic and professional life of the Delaware Law student body, encouraging students to aspire to the highest traditions of the profession.”

Dean JohnsonJohnson, is the Hugh B. Brown Presidential Endowed Chair in Law at the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law, where he has been on the faculty since 2008. He teaches and writes in the areas of business, banking and tax law. He currently co-chairs Utah’s curriculum and ABA site visit committees and served as the school’s associate dean for academic affairs from 2012-2014. Prior to his time in Utah, he spent 13 years on the faculty of Loyola University Chicago School of Law, during which he spent three years as an academic consultant to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, and was also a senior lecturer for three summers at the University of Melbourne. Prior to teaching he was an associate attorney at Milbank Tweed in New York and Mayer Brown in Chicago, as well as a certified public accountant for Price Waterhouse in Houston.

Johnson earned his law degree at Columbia University School of Law where he was executive editor of the Columbia Law Review and a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar. He has an undergraduate degree from the University of Utah and a master’s of accounting from the University of Utah Graduate School of Accounting. He chairs the Subcommittee on Insolvency and Related Issues for the American Bar Association’s Business Law Section Committee on Derivatives and Futures Law. He is the author or co-author of eight books and portfolios and more than 50 legal publications, book chapters, book reviews and more.

“It is an absolute privilege for me to serve as dean of Widener Law Commonwealth. The school plays such an important role for Pennsylvania’s capital with its programs, lectures and signature Law & Government Institute,” Johnson said. “I look forward to sharing my vision for legal education with the school, including the importance of globalization and the need to balance legal theory with an education that prepares students for the practice of law. I am anxious to build on the positive relationships Widener has with the community and its many constituencies.”

Widener University School of Law has deep roots in both the Wilmington and Harrisburg communities. It was founded as Delaware Law School in 1971 in Wilmington, and graduated its first class four years later. In 1989, Widener acquired property to house a law school in Harrisburg and opened a campus there. Today, the two locations are home to more than 700 law students pursuing Juris Doctor degrees in a three-year, full-time program, or part time in Widener’s four-year, extended division. The Delaware location also offers legal graduate, compliance certificate, paralegal and legal nurse consulting programs.

Widener University is a private, metropolitan university that connects curricula to social issues through civic engagement. Dynamic teaching, active scholarship, personal attention, leadership development, and experiential learning are key components of the Widener experience. A comprehensive doctorate-granting university, Widener is comprised of eight schools and colleges that offer liberal arts and sciences and professional and pre-professional curricula leading to associate's, baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral degrees. The university’s campuses in Chester, Exton, and Harrisburg, PA, and Wilmington, DE, serve approximately 6,000 students. Widener is proud to be a tobacco-free university. Visit the university's website,, for more information.