Professor Johnston Leaves the John Marshall Classroom After Nearly 50 Years

Robert "Gil" JohnstonRobert Gilbert “Gil” Johnston has graded his last assignment at The John Marshall Law School. After nearly 50 years in the classroom, he will officially become Professor Emeritus Johnston on Sept. 1, 2013.

His long and impressive career started in 1963 when he joined John Marshall’s adjunct faculty. Two years later, he took a full-time teaching position and was named director of the legal methods program, which he headed for three years.

“I will always remember the wonderful time I had teaching students,” Johnston said, “especially the 1968 class which was my first class as a full-time professor. It seemed they all were excellent students, and several went on to notable careers, including Tom Fitzgerald (retired chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court), Len Amari (president of The John Marshall Board of Trustees and partner at Amari & Locallo) and Tim Evans (chief judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County).”

But Johnston grew restless for his native Hawaii and packed up his wife and two young sons in 1970 and returned to Oahu where he headed up the Hawaii Legal Services Project, a legal aid organization. Two years later, he went in to private practice focusing on native Hawaiian land claims, protecting children, and prisoners’ rights. It was a natural fit for him. Growing up on a sugar plantation he played with the children of the workers, many who were Japanese and native Hawaiians, and he learned to appreciate their cultures.

In 1975, Johnston brought his family back to the Chicago area after he accepted a full-time teaching position at John Marshall. Over the years, he taught Civil Procedure I and II, Administrative Procedure, Conflicts of Law, Federal Jurisdiction, Ethics, Litigation Process and Pre-Trial Practice.

He only gave up teaching when he took over the administrative reins of the law school as associate dean for academic affairs in 1988, then acting dean in 1994. He was named dean in 1995 and continued in that position until August 2003 when he returned to his professor’s desk for another 10 years.

Johnston has a long list of accomplishments during his 15 years in administrative positions. The Fair Housing Legal Clinic, the Czech Program and the SIPO-China Program all began under his leadership, although he is quick to point out that “I didn’t accomplish any of that by myself. Mike Seng may be low-key, but he has tremendous ideas and does exceptional work at carrying them out.  I got the board to agree to the establishment of the Fair Housing program, but really we have Mike to thank for the success.”

He believes the personal efforts of Dorothy Li helped establish and grow the China program. “Again, I may have been the associate dean at the time, and I thought the idea of a partnership with China’s State Intellectual Property Office was fascinating and something that our Intellectual Property Program could benefit from, but much credit should go to Dorothy Li who has tirelessly worked the past 20 years to develop it.”

It was Johnston who oversaw the law school’s purchase of the Chicago Bar Association building’s top nine floors in a condominium agreement. Today that space is used for faculty and staff offices giving more available space for classrooms in the law school’s Plymouth Court and State Street buildings.

He also approved the expansion of John Marshall’s graduate degree programs and the growth of the Centers for Excellence, believing these programs would set John Marshall apart from other law schools. During Johnston’s tenure, John Marshall became the first law school in the country to offer LLM degrees in international business and trade law, information technology and privacy law, and employee benefits. Today, John Marshall offers the most LLM degrees of any law school in the Midwest.

It was fitting that a long-time faculty member should lead the law school, founded in 1899, when it marked the 100th anniversary (during two academic years, 1998-99 and 1999-2000). The law school undertook a major Centennial Campaign raising more than $13 million. It began Comment, a slick coffee-table magazine that showcased the outstanding students, faculty and programs at John Marshall. And throughout the two years, John Marshall held various celebrations, including a birthday party at Daley Plaza and the Chicago Fire Trial with celebrity jurors finding Daniel “Peg Leg” Sullivan guilty of setting Mrs. O’Leary’s barn on fire that ignited the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

“I put Ralph Ruebner in charge of our centennial events, and he did a terrific job planning and developing each program.  He even wrote the script for the Chicago Fire trial,” Johnston recalled.

In his last stint as a professor, Johnston focused on Illinois Civil Procedure and Recent Illinois Decisions. It’s an area of law Johnston has been examining for decades and written on many times, including his authorship of Discovery in Illinois: Federal and Illinois Practice in the 1980s.

Although Johnston is stepping away from the classroom, he says he will continue to be around the law school and will post updates on his Illinois Civil Procedure blog. He also will continue posting outstanding student papers that are worthy of publication. He has already featured a dozen student pieces at

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