Jeffrey Patton (Class of 1988)

photo of Jeff PattonJeff Patton graduated from Harvard Law School in 1994. He received a B.Phil., summa cum laude, from Miami University, in Oxford, Ohio, in 1988. He earned the degree of M.Phil., with distinction, from The University of Sheffield, in Sheffield, England, in 1991. Patton was awarded a Rotary International Foundation Scholarship for international graduate study in 1989-90. He is licensed in Illinois and a member of the Trial Bar of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

Before joining Tabet DiVito & Rothstein, Patton was a partner with the law firm of Schiff Hardin & Waite. He has served as an adjunct professor and visiting lecturer on American litigation at Peking University Law School, in Beijing, China. He lives in Chicago with his wife and two children.

"The [Western] program is especially good at producing thoughtful, coherent communicators who perform well in new circumstances."

What would you identify as the key elements and core values of the Western Program as you experienced it?

"Four fundamental characteristics stand out to me as most important.

"First, Western simultaneously offers students a (top-notch) general, liberal arts curriculum and pushes them to dig deeply into a particular field in order to focus on their own career goals. Western students may end up changing focus mid-stream or working jobs they never expected to, but the process of choosing and digging is inherently good.

"Second, Western students are constantly forced to write and speak about a wide variety of topics—all the time and in every course. The program is especially good at producing thoughtful, coherent communicators who perform well in new circumstances.

"Third, the program emphasizes close reading and critical thinking. Nearly every class is an exploration of contradictory theories or points of view. Students are asked to take positions, criticize, and expose internal inconsistencies. This is not the case in many undergraduate programs, and I can't imagine one that does it better than Western.

"Fourth, Western's unique living/learning community is a lively and stimulating environment. This offers enormous and immeasurable benefits. Regardless of whether they come from big or small high schools, new Western students are struck by the talent, camaraderie, and diversity of their fellow students and the genuine interest, energy, and involvement of the excellent Western faculty. It is inconceivable that a student could go through the program without greatly benefiting from it both socially and intellectually."

What are your best and worst Western memories?

"I have lots of great memories and only a few bad ones. Here are some examples."


  • Winning the Miami campus-wide softball championship with a rag-tag team of Western students, architecture majors, and our third baseman/professor. We upset the Betas in the championship game. They were stunned.
  • The feeling of satisfaction and confidence I got many times over four years at Western that I had really learned and accomplished something significant as a result of serious effort—e.g., as I finalized an essay about woodworking after extensive revisions based on constructive criticism in my first year, when completing a class on the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Western Europe in my junior year, and after turning in my senior project. These moments encouraged me and helped me understand that I was capable of greater things in the future. By the end of my senior year, I felt that I had been catapulted in sophistication level and my understanding of the world. I had changed from being a naive teenager to someone who could at least speak reasonably intelligently with accomplished people from all walks of life.
  • Playing round number 611 on the frisbee golf course that my friends and I designed on the Western campus. Our course was comprised of roads, trees, buildings, fences, water hazards, gates, and the bell tower … but no metal posts custom designed for frisbee golf!
  • Hackey-sack marathons in the halls of Peabody and McKee.


  • How could I possibly have missed the typo in the telephone number listed on my own résumé senior year? What an idiot!"

How has your experience of the Western community shaped your subsequent participation in other communities?

"I have no doubt that my Western experience profoundly shaped me as a person and, therefore, my participation in other communities. The difficulty is in pinpointing examples.

"Here's one instance when my interdisciplinary background was very helpful. Before law school, I did a Master's degree in England. I was situated in the Department of English Language and Linguistics at The University of Sheffield and, more specifically, in a sub-department called the Centre for English Cultural Tradition and Language, which was generally described as the Folklore department. Nevertheless, my work was unmistakably interdisciplinary. I dealt with a problem that had been written about almost exclusively by folklorists, but which I felt was pertinent to scholars in many other fields. In my thesis, I analyzed the relevant scholarship of folklorists, but also discussed the work of historiographers, literary critics, oral historians, and popular writers—a good number of whom I had been exposed to at Western. I think this made my thesis much better and more interesting.

"On a more general level, my Western experience caused me to become more open-minded and tolerant. It helped me develop a respect for other ideas and people with backgrounds, values, and tastes different from my own. But it did not strip me of a belief in standards, justice, or right and wrong. On the contrary, it helped me better understand how to draw qualitative distinctions and make judgments about ideas, events, and people."

What impact has your Western education had on your professional development and career path? What do you most value about interdisciplinary education?

"Everything is connected. I chose the profession of social work, and am now a professor of social work, because they enabled me to make a lifelong and daily commitment to my values."

What do you most value now about interdisciplinary education?

"I think it is generally important and valuable for anyone (regardless of their position and career) to know a little about a wide variety of things, to know a lot about some things, and to be prepared to develop a good command of just about anything when required. This is especially true in my profession.

"I am a litigation lawyer. Every time I get a new case I encounter a new problem, and I often find myself digging deeply into a new industry or field and dealing with a new community of people.

For instance, I have handled bank fraud cases, copyright and trademark litigation, environmental disputes, construction-related lawsuits, accounting malpractice cases, and a wide range of other matters. I have worked closely with bankers and artists, scientists and salespeople, engineers and educators, accountants and writers. My interdisciplinary education at Western has helped me connect and communicate with these and all sorts of other people over the course of my career."

What are your aspirations for the new program?

"I think of my 'main campus' courses as part of my Western experience. In fact, Western requires students to search out appropriate classes in other Miami colleges and departments as they develop their 'focus.' Some of my favorite classes were taught by non-Western faculty members in the English, History, and Classics departments. This is one reason why I am not discouraged by the recent decision to make Western part of the College of Arts and Science.

"I believe the new Western can be every bit as good as the one I experienced. I hope the students and faculty embrace the new program and give it the same kind of time and energy that made the old program so good."

[May 2009]