Tuesday, March 06, 2007

New Law School at Wilkes University?

On March 04, 2007, an Associate Press article entitled "Wilkes University faculty to vote on law school proposal", was published in the Times Leader (Northeastern PA), reporting that "[f]aculty members at Wilkes University will vote next month on the idea of setting up the region's first law school." See also: "Wilkes explores NEPA law school" by Kevin Amerman, of the Times Leader, published on March 3, 2007.

The faculty will vote on the proposal April 1, and the university's board of trustees will take up the issue April 13, said Scott Byers, university vice president for finance and support.

"It's something that's missing in the community as a region," Byers said. "When you think about Scranton starting a medical school, us having a law school - regionally, it's really kind of changed the face of the area."

Byers, who spoke about the issue at the Downtown Wilkes-Barre Business Association meeting on Friday, said if the proposal is approved, the university will hire a dean to help develop ideas for the law school.

"I would imagine we would anticipate a startup of September 2009," Byers said. The school would have a three-year program, likely starting with 75 students and having 225 by the third year, he said. * * *

The school "won't be Harvard or Yale," but would be a quality school, he said. * * *

Wilkes University, located in Wilkes-Barre, Luzerne County, PA, has a history of growth & expansion, according to its website here.

The institution we know today as Wilkes University began in 1933 when Bucknell University established its Junior College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. * * *

In 1947, Wilkes College was instituted as an independent, nondenominational four-year college, with programs in the arts, sciences, and a number of professional fields as well as a full program of extra-curricular activities.

Designation as Wilkes University in 1990 capped an eventful and productive half-century of development and signaled the beginning of a new era of progress as an increasingly distinguished and prominent academic institution. * * *

Wilkes University further distinguished itself in 1996 when the eagerly anticipated School of Pharmacy opened. Three years later, through a generous gift from Mrs. Geraldine Nesbitt Orr, the Nesbitt School of Pharmacy at Wilkes University was established.

In 2004, the Jay S. Sidhu School of Business & Leadership opened its doors with a unique program that emphasizes not only business skills, but also the value of cognitive and emotional intelligence.

In 2005, the "new" Henry Student Center was expanded and the University purchased an 80,000 square foot building in downtown Wilkes-Barre.

What will we do next? Stay tuned to find out.
In the past, Wilkes University has offered a successful Pre-Law Studies Program to its undergraduate students.
In recent years, Wilkes graduates have attended PSU-Dickinson, Temple University, Villanova University, and a number of other law schools. In 2005, 100% of our pre-law advisees who applied to law schools were accepted.
The University's Wilkes Vision 2010 Summary, in its Item 1. d., addresses the possibility of a new law school:
Examine the case for a law school. This multi-year effort will involve development of a business case and, if that proves out, the planning and building of a law school with appropriate campus participation. Enrollments would be considered part of graduate growth. A law school will also add to Wilkes prestige and develop an alumni base over time that can serve as a powerful advocate for Wilkes throughout the region and state.
Pennsylvania is home to eight law schools already. Wikipedia's topic "Law Schools" lists these law schools (with further explanatory cross-links). I edited & supplemented descriptions into the following summaries:
  • Drexel University College of Law
    • Drexel University College of Law, the newest college of Drexel University, is located in West Philadelphia. Drexel University received approval to start a College of Law from Pennsylvania's Department of Education in 2005. The law school building began construction in the Fall, 2006 , and it opened for classes on January 8, 2007.
  • Duquesne University School of Law
    • The Duquesne University School of Law was founded in 1911, in Pittsburgh, PA. It is the only multiple-division law school in western Pennsylvania. It offers a Juris Doctorate (J.D.) program, as well as joint J.D. programs with a Master of Business Administration, a Master of Science in Taxation, a Master of Science in Environmental Science & Management, or a Master of Divinity with Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Almost 30 percent of the practicing lawyers in western Pennsylvania are graduates of Duquesne University School of Law, which has 5,800 alumni.
  • Temple University Beasley School of Law
    • The Temple University James E. Beasley School of Law, informally referred to as Temple Law School, is located at the Main Campus of Temple University, in Philadelphia, PA. It was founded in 1895. In addition to offering a J.D. degree, the Law School offers advanced specialty degrees (Masters) in Trial Advocacy, Transnational Law, and Taxation.
  • Penn State Dickinson School of Law
    • The Dickinson School of Law was founded in 1834, making it the fifth oldest law school in the U.S., and the oldest law school in Pennsylvania. It remained an independent institution for over 150 years, until it became associated with Penn State University in 1997, merging in 2000. Starting in 2006, the law school offered classes at a University Park location, in State College, PA. The Carlisle location will undergo a massive renovation, while a completely new law school facility will be constructed at University Park. The law school in Carlisle has relocated temporarily, until the renovations will be completed for the 2009 school year.
  • University of Pennsylvania Law School
  • University of Pittsburgh School of Law
    • The University of Pittsburgh School of Law was founded in 1895, and now is one of 17 schools comprising the University of Pittsburgh. It is located on the main University of Pittsburgh campus, in the Oakland area. It offers these degrees: a Master of Studies in Law (Designed for individuals wanting to expand their knowledge of the law, but do not intend to practice law); a J.D. (Primary Law Degree), an L.L.M. (for International Students), and a Doctor of Judicial Science (A doctoral degree designed for lawyers seeking academic appointments).
  • Villanova University School of Law
    • Villanova University School of Law was established in 1953 at Villanova University's campus located in Radnor Township, a suburb northwest of Philadelphia. It offers degree study for a Juris Doctorate (J.D.), for a Master of Law in Taxation, for a joint J.D./M.B.A. degree with its School of Business, and for a joint J.D./Ph.D. degree in Law & Psychology with Drexel University's Health Sciences.
  • Widener University School of Law
    • Widener University School of Law was founded in 1971 as the Delaware Law School. The institution became affiliated with Widener University in 1975 and graduated its first class of 267 that year. The Harrisburg Campus was added to the School of Law in 1989.
Note that two of the law schools have dual campuses. Penn State Dickinson now operates in two locations (Carlisle & State College), both with new capital improvement projects in process. Widener Law School operates a main campus & a second campus (in the Harrisburg area).

As indicated above, the most recent of the law schools in Pennsylvania is the presently-unaccredited Drexel University College of Law, which is required to gain accreditation from the American Bar Association after its first year of operation.

Does Pennsylvania need another law school? And, generally, do we need more lawyers?

These questions are considered in an opinion/editorial feature entitled
"How many lawyers are enough lawyers?", by Jim Castagnera, an Associate Provost/Associate Counsel at Rider University, published in the News of Delaware County, on January 10, 2007:
In October 2006 the U.S. Census Bureau officially logged in our 300 millionth citizen (or would-be-citizen).

Nobody knows who that little baby is, but odds are that by 2032 she or he will be a lawyer. The official lawyer count is currently hovering around one million. For the severely math-challenged, that's one "mouthpiece," as Scarface Al Capone called his, for every 300 of us, whether we like it or not.

Some folks seem to like it a lot. Drexel University just opened a College of Law. Was Greater Philly not fully served by the five law schools -- Rutgers-Camden, Temple, Villanova, Penn and Widener -- already well-established in our neighborhood?

According to its own Web site, "The 13,000-member Philadelphia Bar Association, founded in 1802, is America's first chartered metropolitan bar association and Pennsylvania's largest local bar association." And that's just the Philly association. Bucks, Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties all boast bar organizations.

No matter. Drexel crows that it is "the first top-ranked doctoral university in the country to open a law school in more than 25 years!" The response to the law school has been overwhelmingly positive and has attracted excellent applicants for admission as well as faculty members from well-regarded law schools and from practice backgrounds.

Drexel is hardly alone in believing America can use more lawyers. In December, the Massachusetts Law School (MLS), which is not accredited by the American Bar Association, appeared before a U.S. Department of Education committee to make its case.

The school, which claims to offer affordable law-training to "the common man," contends that the ABA is an unfair monopoly. The maverick school wants the ABA stripped of its right to accredit the competition. Break the ABA strangle-hold, the MLS argues, and more minority, immigrant and blue-collar people will be find law school accessible. * * *

The trustees of Wilkes University will be considering just such questions in the context of their own long-term plans, in April, 2007.

* * *

Addendum: 03/06/07:

It occurred to me, after posting, that I should disclose my connections to existing law schools in Pennsylvania, and briefly state my own perspective.

I graduated from The Dickinson School of Law in 1976. I recently acted as a guest lecturer at Penn State Dickinson School of Law (at its temporary facility in Middlesex Township, near Carlisle) for one session of an Animal Law class in February, 2007, which was televised to other students at its State College facility.

I have taught
as an Adjunct Professor at Widener University School of Law (Harrisburg Campus) since 2000, on the subjects of estate planning & administration, and elder law. I will teach an Elder Law course there again in fall, 2007.

From my accumulated observations about current law school graduates' difficulty in employment placement, practitioners' struggles to maintain their firms & practices, the pass rates (approximately 60%) for the Pennsylvania Bar Examination (which limits lawyer admissions), the involvement of other professionals & businesses in areas formerly the exclusive domain of the legal profession, the high cost of a legal education, the numbers of attorneys already in the Commonwealth (the population of which has only increased approximately 1% - 2% over a decade), and the dramatic changes in technology allowing education in a "virtual environment", it is my view that that there are enough law schools already in Pennsylvania. [Look at the length of that sentence. You know that I must be a lawyer!]

That is only my personal, unresearched opinion. It should not be quoted.

I do suggest that its Trustees study the issue carefully. They could also consider alternative graduate education not adequately addressed in the Commonwealth -- perhaps specialized education that would address the anticipated needs of the Commonwealth's citizens in 2020 and thereafter. See:
PA's "2020 VISION" Project: Part I and PA's "2020 VISION" Project: Part II.

Update: 04/13/07:

The Times-Leader posted an article online on Friday, April 13, 2007, at 3:36 pm, reporting that, on Tuesday, April 11, 2007, a faculty committee approved a business plan for a new law school at Wilkes University. The proposal will be presented to its Board of Trustees. See: "Wilkes University’s law school nears planning stages", by Kris Wernowsky:
Wilkes University faculty passed a measure Tuesday that moves a proposed Northeast Pennsylvania law school closer to the planning stages.

The Academic Planning Committee passed a near unanimous resolution to accept the business proposal for a still unnamed law school adjoined to Wilkes University’s downtown campus, university spokeswoman Christine Seitzinger said.

The next move comes in June, when the university’s board of trustees will consider the same plan. Should the plan be approved by the trustees, the university will begin its search for the school’s first dean. * * *

Update: 07/14/07:

My impression about the lack of employment opportunities for newly-minted lawyers is accurate. See: Wall Street Journal's Law Blog posting on July 11, 2007, entitled "The Jobless JDs", by Ashby Jones.

“I just didn’t think it would be this hard. I think it’s just a general misconception that with a law degree you’re going to be in good shape.” — 2007 University of Oklahoma College of Law graduate.

“I’m kind of stuck. . . . I could get in the door; I just couldn’t land the job.”
— 2006 Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law graduate, who claims to have sent out over 100 resumes and letters before she graduated.

These quotes (and others like them) come from a National Law Journal story out this week on the travails of job-seeking lawyers-to-be, especially those from schools outside the top ranks.

Though many big firms are shelling out $160,000 to first-year lawyers, says the story, only a fraction of law grads are pulling down those types of salaries.

Contributing to the situation, says the story, “is the effort by law schools to portray their employment numbers as robustly as possible to boost their ranking scores.” That can make for inflated expectations for lots of graduates.

“They do not have an accurate perception of the job market,” said Emily Spieler, dean of Northeastern University School of Law. “They have very restricted views.” * * *

The "job market" and the implied promise made to law students when they pay (or borrow) the tuition necessary to attend law school -- that further education will increase their employment opportunities -- should be one of the elements to be considered by those charged with examining a new law school at Wilkes University.

A "legal educational leader" to study such issues will be appointed. See: "Wilkes Moves Closer to Establishing Law School", posted June 8, 2007, on the website of Wilkes University:

Wilkes University’s Board of Trustees moved a step closer to establishing a law school by approving at its June 8 meeting the hiring of a legal educational leader. The leader is charged to develop a full-fledged plan for a law school, further investigate market demand for it, explore potential specializations for the school and raise funds for the school’s founding.

“We are moving forward in a thoughtful way and are overall very excited about the possibilities this law school will have for Wilkes and the region,” said Jack Miller ’68, chair of the Board of Trustees.

The education leader will report on the findings with regard to this charge and recommend to the Board at the June or September 2008 meeting whether to proceed with the opening of a law school. With a favorable report and further faculty approval, Wilkes could open a law school in the fall of 2009. * * *

See also: "Board moves forward with plans for Wilkes law school", by Brian Jarvis, published on June 9, 2007, in the Times-Tribune (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, PA).

National Law Journal article, dated July 9, 2007, by Leigh Jones, is entitled "About that huge salary: It's a longshot" -- Most law grads face lower pay and debt.
A big challenge — and responsibility — for law schools is to dispel the notion that six-figure salaries at megafirms are the norm, she [Emily Spieler, Dean of Northeastern University School of Law] said.

"They perceive those jobs as having high status and high pay and do not understand what they entail."
Update: 09/24/07:

Here's another article about law school graduates' job prospects & salaries, posted on September 24, 2007, by the American Bar Association Journal: "Law School Secret: Bad Job Market", by Debra Cassens Weiss.
The job market is tough for many recent law grads, who are pointing their fingers at law schools for failing to warn them about their dim prospects.

Top pay for new associates at the big law firms is $160,000, but most beginning lawyers make far less at the same time they are paying off tuition loans as high as $100,000 or more, the Wall Street Journal reports (sub. req.). Some newly minted lawyers are taking temporary attorney jobs that pay only $20 an hour.

Law professor Richard Sander of the University of California at Los Angeles told the newspaper that incoming law students are "mesmerized by what's happening in big firms, but clueless about what's going on in the bottom half of the profession." * * *

Update: 02/06/08:

For further developments, see: EE&F Law Blog posting "
Proposed Wilkes Law School Seeks Dean" (02/06/08).

Update: 04/28/08:

New law schools are also proposed in New York state, where the need for them is questioned by the
interim dean of the University at Buffalo Law School. See: "Dean of only state-run law school against adding more in NY
"There's no question that we simply have a glut of law schools," said Makau Mutua, interim dean of the University at Buffalo Law School. "There's no shortage of access to legal education for New Yorkers who want to go to law school." * * *

Building more law schools isn't on the New York State Bar Association's to-do list. A spokeswoman for the organization said its legal education and admission committee hasn't been called on to study whether New York needs more law schools.

"I have no idea why the state would consider three more law schools," said Thomas Guernsey, dean of Albany Law School. "There's no evidence in the job market that we need more than those 15 schools." * * *

A state lawmaker who pushed for the St. John Fisher funding in the state budget says a law school, if located in downtown Rochester, would give the city a much-needed economic boost.

"This is really about improving regionalism and improving Rochester's academic landscape and career opportunities," said state Senator Joseph Robach, a Republican from suburban Greece.

Robach envisions a Rochester law school that would primarily attract local college graduates seeking affordable legal education closer to home. * * *
This article was the subject of an ABA Journal blawg posting on April 23, 2008, entitled "N.Y. Dean Complains of ‘Glut’ of Law Schools", by Molly McDonough.

Update: 05/20/08:

On May 7, 2008, Wilkes University issued a Press Release, entitled "Wilkes Takes Big Step to Creating New Law School -- Announces Dean of Law School Planning Initiative". The named dean is Loren ("Chip") D. Prescott, Jr., now of Harrisburg, PA.

Chip is a good friend of mine. His appointment reassures me about the future of the proposed new law school.
See: PA EE&F Law Blog posting "Wilkes' New Dean of Law School Planning Initiative " (05/20/08).

Update: 01/23/09:

The cost-benefit debate regarding a law school education continues to rage, highened by the recent difficult economic climate, depressed job market, and tightened credit situation.

Some critics claims that the promises of legal educators equate to a hoax or a fraud, while others affirm the fundamental beneft of such graduate-level training.
See: "
Law Dean Says Schools ‘Exploiting’ Students Who Don’t Succeed" and "Divorcing Law Grads, Stressed Over $190K in Debt, Victims of ‘Education Hoax’" both by Debra Cassens Weiss, posted January 20, 2009, by the American Bar Association Journal's Law News Now.