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A proposal to form the first-ever public law school in Massachusetts is triggering controversy among a handful of private law schools. Critics say that a public law school will only burden taxpayers, and that Massachusetts doesn’t need another one. But proponents suspect these critics are afraid of potential competition, and are camouflaging that fear by scaring taxpayers. Supporters also note that Massachusetts is one of only six states in the United States without a public law school, and that one is needed to offer opportunities to poor and middle-class students who live in parts of the state that the Boston schools don’t reach. “I think they believe that it’s a threat to their financial well being � that [a public law school] could impact the growth of their student body in the future,” said James Karam, the board of trustees chairman at the University of Massachusetts, which would run the new law school by acquiring the Southern New England School of Law, about 60 miles south of Boston in North Dartmouth. According to Karam and other University of Massachusetts officials, the three main critics of the public law school proposal are Suffolk University Law School, the New England School of Law and the Western New England College School of Law. Officials at both Suffolk and New England law schools declined to comment. Art Gaudio, the dean at Western New England’s law school, said he is most concerned about the proposed school’s financial impact on the state — not competition. He said the proposed law school will cost taxpayers about $5 million a year, disputing proponents’ claims that the plan will not require state funding. Massachusetts currently has nine law schools with tuitions ranging from $19,000 to $30,000. “The University of Massachusetts wants to be considered on the same level as the University of Michigan and Florida and other states that have state institutions. You can’t [compete] without a medical school and a law school,” said Robert Ward Jr., dean at the Southern New England School of Law. Ward said the proposed law school tuition would stay the same, about $19,000 a year. There’s also a plan to give 50 percent tuition discounts to 25 students each year who commit to working five years in public interest law. And as far as burdening taxpayers, Ward asserted a new law school would not cost taxpayers a dime. “We’re not asking the taxpayers to do anything,” Ward said. “Our law school is already generating sufficient revenue to care for itself. I already have a faculty. I already have a building. I already have a library. I already have all the things that a law school requires.” But Gaudio believes that the law school will require more down the road, such as more professors to teach the growing number of students, which is expected to jump from 270 to 450. He also said that the law school’s library is weak and will need updating. Tresa Baldas is a reporter with The National Law Journal, a Recorder affiliate based in New York City.

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