Reimagining the Best Environment for a Legal Education

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Dineen Hall occupies one full block, with ground-level entrances on three sides allowing visitors easy navigation, as depicted in this rendering.

From her office window in White Hall, College of Law Dean Hannah R. Arterian can’t quite see the daily progress on the impressive rising structure of Dineen Hall. The perspective looking across Irving Avenue is at an awkward angle. “In the stairwells you can get a better look,” Arterian says.

For Arterian, the second glance or a pause in the windowed stairways isn’t just about seeing the building taking shape, but about the possibilities that will soon be realized in the new centered and connected home of the College of Law.

Among its many features, the 200,000-square-foot, five-story building will have a number of smaller seminar classrooms conducive to team learning, the latest technology throughout its teaching and communal spaces, a teaching courtroom that models modern facilities and a central atrium that encourages interaction. The college will also now have its own major auditorium; Grant Auditorium in White Hall is managed by the University.

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Robert Dineen L’66 and Dean Arterian tour the Dineen Hall construction site. Architects worked with great flexibility to create an iconic structure with a wide variety of spaces, designed specifically to fit the demands of a modern college of law.

“Dineen Hall is a radical rethinking of the environment to benefit our students and a community of faculty who are dedicating their lives to the educational process,” Arterian says. “We want to create the best environment for students to help them develop their own success.”

In less than a year, the College of Law community will move into Dineen Hall, on the SU campus’ western edge and immediately west of the College of Law’s current buildings, E. I. White Hall and Winifred MacNaughton Hall. The new facility was kicked off by a $15 million naming gift by the Dineen family in 2010 to honor their parents, College of Law graduates Carolyn Bareham Dineen L’32 and Robert Emmet Dineen L’24, H’66.

The need for a new building is due in part to the responsiveness of the college to its educational responsibilities in providing a modern legal education that meets the rigorous standards for accreditation—and the expectations of students.

“Twenty-five years ago, there wasn’t a demand for a deep student life office, a placement operation or all the skills training and clinics that are needed,” Arterian says. “We also didn’t have then the kind of legal writing instruction that is required by ABA [American Bar Association] accreditation.”

An intense review

After reviewing the needs of the College of Law, administrators and members of the college’s board of advisors, chaired by Marc Malfitano L’78, visited the best examples of new law school designs. The plans, which came together under lead architect Richard Gluckman ’70, G’71, of the Gluckman Mayner architectural firm in New York, reflect the changing environment of learning.

As the steel frame of Dineen Hall has now risen and is being enclosed, the interior work begins this winter on all of the features that will make the building a distinct center of learning. “In terms of gross square feet, Dineen Hall is not much bigger than our buildings now. In terms of usable square feet it’s a lot bigger,” Arterian says. “It will be remarkably different.”

The plans include a teaching courtroom and a ceremonial courtroom, designed with the assistance of a federal court building consultant; a law clinic suite; and smaller classroom spaces, with eight seminar rooms for between 16 to 25 students, natural lighting and technology commensurate with the needs of today’s students.

“The classrooms will be technologically extraordinarily different than what we have now,” Arterian says. “It’s going to change both the teaching and the learning experience for our students.”

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A symbol of the University's tangible commitment to legal education and the profession, Dineen Hall is built for the present and the future.

A critical asset of the new facility is its central atrium space, which is not present in the college’s current layout, and the collaboratory space. The sense of community and opportunities for mentoring and academic interactions will be enhanced through the informal spaces apparent in the atrium and other spaces. “The building is the home for the law students, and in general we have a faculty that is much more present in the facility than in some other law schools, so we wanted to make that evident and encourage those interactions,” the dean says.

The locations of the various operations, such as student life and professional development, will also create natural synergies between people and the work that goes on. “The hope is that all those things will make us more efficient and more effective. It will also make people more aware of the depth of what exists here in terms of the students, staff and faculty,” Arterian says.

This story is adapted from an article in the fall 2013 edition of Syracuse Law.