7 minute read

Patricia Mell Biography


University administrator

With twenty years of experience at faculty level in several major law schools, Patricia Mell was appointed Dean of the John Marshall Law School in Chicago in 2003. She became the first black and first female dean of the 104-year-old school and on her appointment was the only black woman to be leading a United States law school where white students form a majority. A graduate of Wellesley College, her career includes appointments at some of the most prestigious law schools in the country, including Michigan State University-Detroit College of Law, where she was Professor of Law before moving to the John Marshall Law School. The daughter of a Cleveland police detective, Mell's list of professional affiliations, academic appointments, and legal positions held is impressive. She served as assistant attorney general for the state of Ohio (1978-82), was made full professor of law at Michigan State University-Detroit College of Law aged just thirty-nine in 1992, and in 2004 was named one of Chicago's 100 most influential women. Her position as dean of the John Marshall Law School makes her one of the most important legal practitioners in the United States.

Born on December 15, 1953, in Cleveland, Ohio, Patricia Mell is the daughter of Julian Cooper Mell, a Cleveland police detective, and Thelma (Webb) Mell, an elementary school principal. She graduated from Collinwood High School in Cleveland in 1971 and went on to Wellesley College, graduating with a bachelor's degree in 1975. Mell progressed to Case Western Reserve University Law School and graduated with a Juris Doctorate (JD) in 1978. She was certified by the Ohio bar and the US District Court, Ohio, in 1979. Mell is married to Dr. Michael Ragland, an obstetrician and gynecologist, and has three stepchildren.

When Mell finished law school she joined the Ohio attorney general's office, where she served as an assistant attorney general specializing in consumer fraud, charitable foundations, and began to develop an interest in corporations and corporate law. She then became corporation counsel for Ohio's secretary of state, where she served from 1982 to 1984. Mell began teaching in 1984 at Capital University Law School, in Columbus, Ohio, where she spent a year as a visiting assistant clinical professor before becoming a visiting professor at the University of Toledo College of Law. She continued to be involved in practical legal work as a mediator with the night prosecutor's program in Columbus and at Toledo found time to serve on the scholarship screening committee of the Black American Law Student Association from 1985 to 1986 and on the governing body of Case Western Reserve University Law School, from 1985 to 1988. She was assistant professor of law at Widener University, Wilmington, Delaware, from 1986 to 1988 before moving to Michigan to join the firm of Lewis, White, and Clay in Detroit in 1991. After a year during which she also worked as an adjunct professor at Wayne State University Law School, Mell was made professor of law at Michigan State University Detroit College of Law in 1992, where she was later promoted to associate Dean for academic affairs in 2000.

Mell's experience in education and in the commercial legal world, as well as her background in administration were given as the reasons why she was chosen for the position of Dean at the John Marshall Law School. But in an interview for the Chicago Law Bulletin her predecessor in the post, Dean Robert Gilbert Johnston also pointed to her personality. Mell is known as a friendly and outgoing person who is also ambitious and imaginative. She took over the post at a time when the John Marshall Law School was struggling with falling bar passage rates and other structural problems, and her appointment can be seen as an attempt to revitalize the school with a fresh approach. Her specialties also fit well with the school's traditional strengths, including its annual hosting of an international moot court competition in information technology and privacy law, both of which are among Mell's interests. She is especially interested in the implications for privacy raised by the growth of e-commerce.

Mell's vision for the school is to widen its reach, connecting with people outside the core legal profession, delivering courses to business people, government workers, and others for whom legal concerns have become increasingly important. She said in her convocation speech that she also intended to open up the law school to students from a wider range of backgrounds than before. The location of the school in Chicago's business and legal district gives its students a close relationship with potential employers and this is something Mell hopes to exploit, refashioning John Marshall as an archetype for urban law schools by strengthening its links with the wider community, businesses, and other organizations. Mell's own career has been defined by her willingness to adapt to new situations and new opportunities and this is an attribute she hopes to bring to the position as Dean, but she has also shown steely determination in order to reach such a position of influence in a profession dominated by white men. She said at her convocation: "We will not let the pursuit of popularity or the inconsistencies of fashion deter us from doing the right thing, from crafting a future for our law school that continues to set us apart from the ordinary and the mundane." Though generally considered a good "second tier" law school, Mell has said that her goal is to lift it into the top ten.

In 2004 Mell was recognized as one of Chicago's 100 most influential women, but she acknowledged that she has not succeeded alone and listed as one of her greatest inspirations the black female Judge Jean Murrell Capers, for whom Mell campaigned as a member of the "Capers for Judge" committee from 1980 to 1986. Capers eventually became the first black woman to serve as assistant county prosecutor in Cuyahoga County, Cleveland. Like Capers, who received many honors for her public service, Mell has also put a great deal of effort into helping others achieve their goals. She was a member of the Alliance of Black Women in Cleveland in the mid-1980s and has been politically active throughout her adult life. She served as chair of the black law student committee of the Young Black Democrats organization from 1982 to 1984 and has consistently represented the interests of black and minority students throughout her career.

At a Glance …

Born Patricia Mell on December 15, 1953, in Cleveland, Ohio; married Dr. Michael Steven Ragland; stepchildren: Lauren, Steven, Camille. Education: Wellesley College, AB, law, 1975; Case Western Reserve University Law School, JD, 1978.

Career: Assistant Attorney General, State of Ohio, Columbus, 1978-82; Secretary of State Corporation counsel, State of Ohio, Columbus, 1982-84; visiting assistant professor, Capital University Law School, Columbus, Ohio, 1984-85; mediator on the night prosecutor's program, Columbus, 1984-85; visiting assistant professor, University of Toledo Law School, 1985-86; assistant professor of law, Widener University (formerly Delaware Law Sch.), Wilmington, 1986-88; professor of law, Michigan State University, Detroit College of Law, East Lansing, Michigan, 1992-2003; associate dean for academic affairs, Michigan State University Detroit College of Law, 2000-02; dean, John Marshall Law School, Chicago, Illinois, 2003–.

Memberships: Alliance of Black Women, Columbus, Ohio, 1983-85; Black American Law Student Association, University of Toledo Law School, scholarship screening committee, 1985-86; Case Western Reserve University Law School, Cleveland, governing body, 1985-88; American Bar Association; National Bar Association; National Conference of Black Lawyers; American Arbitration Association; National Black MBAs, 1986-91.

Awards: International Associated Corps of Administrators, award, 1983; Crain's Chicago Business, Chicago's 100 Most Influential Women, 2004.

Addresses: Office—John Marshall Law School, 315 S Plymouth Court, Chicago, IL, 60604.

Mell's appointment as Dean at John Marshall made her the only black female head of a law school with predominantly white students. This achievement comes after twenty years working in higher education at faculty and administrative level, as well as in private law firms. Since the late 1990s Mell has developed an interest in computers, privacy law, and the law of artistic rights, but her main areas of interest remain commerce, corporations, consumer, and white-collar criminal law. Her recreational interests involve opera and fine art, and she volunteered as a docent at the Detroit Institute of Art.



Black Issues in Higher Education, December 4, 2003.

Chicago Law Bulletin, March 13, 2003.

Jet, November 10, 2003.

The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), October 30, 2003 p. F2.


"JMLS News and Events: John Marshall Readies Itself as 21Century Urban law School," John Marshall Law School, www.jmls.edu/finditem.cfm?itemid=1920 (December 29, 2004).

"JMLS Faculty—Patricia Mell," John Marshall Law School, www.jmls.edu/finditem.cfm?itemid=1916 (December 21, 2004).

"Patricia Mell," Biography Resource Center, www.galenet.com/servlet/BioRC (December 21, 2004).

—Chris Routledge

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Barbara Barbieri McGrath (1953–) Biography - Personal to Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930) Biography