A program of second-year law classes in Boise is inching toward reality. A full third-year program is already in place. Can a full, three-year program be far behind?
Business Insider spoke with Don Burnett, U of I law school dean, about the schools vision for legal education in Boise that it has carried for several years.
Q: Give me a quick update as where we stand with the University of Idaho adding two more years to its law program in Boise.
A: The college has proposed for the State Board of Educations consideration the addition of second-year classes to go with the existing third-year curriculum in Boise. The State Board will be considering that proposal at the October meeting. The State Board will not have at this time a proposal to add the first year, which would complete the three-year package, because we want to proceed incrementally and establish the value of the second-year curriculum just as we have established the third-year curriculum that was begun in 2010.
Q: Did you go to the State Board and ask for permission to approach the Legislature for money for expanding the law school down here?
A: This summer, a proposal was submitted explaining the curriculum piece and also asking the State Board to include a line-item request of $400,000 to support the addition of the second year. The total cost we estimate to be nearly $900,000. But student fees and reallocation of college and university resources will cover all but approximately $400,000.
Q: Where would you put a second year of law school?
A: It would be limited in size to appropriately 35 students. That compares to approximately 30 students we have in the third-year program. They can be housed in the Idaho Water Center building.
Q: Where do you think you can find support for $400,000 for this?
A: A second-year program and ultimately a full-scale program in the Treasure Valley is in the interest of our students. This is an investment in access to cost-effective public education in the metropolitan center. Legislators are very cognizant of the tax dollars. But legal fees that have to be charged by lawyers to cover high education debt are a kind of hidden tax on everyone who utilizes legal services. The average indebtedness for public law school graduates, according to the American Bar Association, is approximately $75,000. The average indebtedness for private law school graduates is approximately $126,000. [U of I average debt is more than $81,000.]
Q: Address the question about whether you think it is absolutely realistic to get $400,000 out of this Legislature.
A: Obviously it will be a challenge. But if the Legislature understands this is an investment in educating experts in economic development and business law, then I believe they will see the value of this investment. The Legislature last year set aside substantial money ($5 million) for what was known as IGEM, the Idaho Global Entrepreneurial Mission (to commercialize research and create jobs). It reflects an understanding that in order to generate economic development, you have to build an infrastructure and level of expertise in the relevant disciplines. We believe by analogy the same thing applies here.
Q: Is this a good time to expand, when the University of Idaho is reporting that its applications for the law school are down significantly?
A: Applications do go through transitions. We are talking about looking at the long-term future. No business makes a strategic decisions based only on yesterdays data. This is a long-term investment. We believe applications will as they have in the past come back to a level that sustains the investment we are making. [U of I enrolled 102 freshman law school students this year, down from 130 last year, but the same number as in 2008.]
Q: As you work toward phasing in the expansion of the University of Idaho law school in Boise, Concordia University School of Law has opened here. It has 75 students. I wonder if you think there is room for those 75-plus and what you intend to do down here.
A: I am not in a position to comment on where Concordia, which is presently an unaccredited school, is getting its students. But I can tell you from our standpoint, we have a statewide mission. Our task is to deliver cost-effective legal education education in which students can invest and incur debts at a level they can manage after graduation at the salary levels that await them in Idaho jobs.
Bill Roberts: 377-6408, Twitter: @IDS_BillRoberts