Three-quarters of the states new lawyers have to study at more expensive out-of-state law schools, forcing them to charge more for their services when they begin practicing, the University of Idahos law school dean says.
Holding down the number of seats in public legal education does not hold down the number of lawyers, Donald Burnett, dean of the University of Idaho College of Law, told legislators at the Capitol. It only means that they come in with a higher debt and then they have to charge their clients more, and thats a hidden tax on Idaho.
The U of I now offers only third-year law classes in Boise. For years, Burnett has pushed for a full three-year law school in Boise, supplementing the longstanding school in Moscow.
We know theres a need there, but the crux of it is, it didnt score as high as some of the other items within the budget, says Otters spokesman, Jon Hanian.
U of I President Duane Nellis says the third-year Boise program has been highly successful and better prepares students for their professional interests, linking them to businesses and government agencies in the Treasure Valley.
He says the universitys $400,000 proposal to add a second-year program would add 40 second-year students, plus expand the third-year program to 40 students.
We believe theres capacity now to house those students, Nellis told lawmakers at a budget hearing. Theres demand for those students here in the Treasure Valley.
The U of Is push to add a second year in Boise continues even though Concordia University, a private university in Portland, built a full three-year law school Downtown that opened in August with 75 first-year students.
Concordia charges $28,500 a year in tuition, though it says scholarships and other fundraising whittle that to about $17,000. Concordia says it began the program to meet pent-up demand for legal education in the Boise area.
The U of I law school charges $15,036 in annual tuition for Idaho residents and $27,824 for out-of-state residents. Room, board, books and other expenses on the Moscow campus can double the cost for Idaho residents. The school offers scholarships based on merit, and the university offers federal student loans based on need.
Burnett acknowledges that applications to law schools have been down the past two years as some lawyers have trouble finding jobs. He says thats because private law school graduates now average more than $125,000 in debt when they graduate, which on top of their undergrad student loan debt doesnt fit well with the pay at entry-level lawyer jobs, particularly in Idaho.
Thats why public legal education continues to be very important, he says. Our students come out with five-figure debts, not six-figure debts, and they can manage them, and they can stay in Idaho. They can represent communities, they can be public defenders, they can be prosecutors.
He also says law degrees can lead to successful careers for many outside of the practice of law, citing examples ranging from CEOs to the current investment manager of Idahos state pension system.
Idaho ranks 49th in the nation for its number of lawyers per capita, Burnett says.
firstname.lastname@example.org. The Idaho Statesman contributed.