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Driven by the efforts of Binghamton University President Lois B. DeFleur, a solid foundation appears to have been laid for creating the first new law school in New York in more than two decades. DeFleur said the new school would be “affordable” and a “logical progression” for the university, noting its present curricular emphases in such law-related fields as economics, political science and philosophy, as well as projected expansions into bio-engineering and public affairs. “We’ve been working with the [American Bar Association] and a consultant affiliated with the ABA,” said DeFleur. “I’ve also talked to key people here in Binghamton, to alumni and to a number of political leaders.” Indeed, DeFleur is well-connected politically. She served on Governor Eliot Spitzer’s transition team between the November 2006 election and inauguration on New Year’s Day, after which she was appointed to a seat on the New York State Commission on Higher Education. In addition, DeFleur serves on a task force for Silda Wall Spitzer’s “I Live New York” initiative through Empire State Development to encourage young professionals to practice their careers in upstate New York. Besides a majority of university faculty, DeFleur counts among her staunchest allies the partners of Binghamton’s two largest law firms – Hinman Howard & Katell and Levene Gouldin & Thompson – and Binghamton City Court Judge Mary Ann Lehman (See Profile). With 15 public and private law schools accredited by the ABA, New York boasts more such institutions than any place else in the country. A 16th law school at Binghamton, which is part of the State University of New York system, would become the state’s third public institution. The others are the University at Buffalo Law School, also part of SUNY, and the City University of New York School of Law – the state’s most recently founded law school, opened in 1983. Yearly tuitions at Buffalo Law and CUNY Law are $13,200 and $8,900, respectively. Annual tuition at the private schools ranges from about $35,000 to more than $40,000. Local supporters are not focused on branding issues for a new Binghamton law school, such as specialty academic offerings. James Orband, managing partner of Hinman Howard, suggested that the university’s Center for Excellence, which organizes research projects in areas such as human genomics, cell biology and biomedicine, would be a natural interdisciplinary partner for an allied law school. “My own personal view is that there’s a lot of potential intellectual property law opportunities that could come out of that,” said Orband, a member of Binghamton’s University Council. He also serves on the New York State Board of Law Examiners in Albany. But until such time as a founding dean and faculty are in place and begin to forge the law school’s academic personality, said Ms. DeFleur, “Our goal right now is to provide good, solid legal education. Later, if [faculty members] develop certain specializations, that’s fine.” DeFleur and her supporters anticipate opening doors to a new law school in 2009 or 2010, to a founding class of between 200 and 300 students who would be charged a tuition rate approximating that of Buffalo Law. The school could be located either on the university’s 887 acres of rolling grounds along the Susquehanna River, said DeFleur, or within the university’s Downtown Academic Center, a $29 million structure opened in August to house the College of Communications and Public Affairs, among other programs. “It’s going to take us a couple of years, at least,” said DeFleur. “We have to see where we’ll get the funding, and there will be on-campus [ABA] reviews.” Projected annual revenues from tuition and fees, said DeFleur would be as much as $4 million. According to the existing per-student tax support formula ranging from $7,000 to $8,000 a year, she calculated additional operating revenues of as much as $2.4 million. A fundraising drive would be held to underwrite construction and facilities costs, said DeFleur, who would also seek money for a general endowment and specially endowed faculty posts. She said she had yet to development an estimate for the total cost of establishing the law school. Assessing the Need Early next month, DeFleur plans to submit a formal letter of intent to the SUNY provost. Then an “overall proposal” for a new law school must be submitted simultaneously to several SUNY committees, followed by submission to the New York State Education Department, after which comes review by Spitzer. Map of New York Law SchoolsAmong the first questions reviewers at any level would ask is that of need. “From a statewide perspective, there is definitely a need for another publicly supported law program,” said David Gouldin, a name partner at Binghamton’s Levene Gouldin & Thompson. Among the partnership at Gouldin’s firm is Kathryn Grant Madigan, president of the New York State Bar Association and a longstanding personal friend and colleague of DeFleur, according to Gouldin. DeFleur said her friend had provided “support and professional expertise” as an appointed member of the Binghamton University Foundation. With a 426-mile distance between the state’s two other public law schools – upstate Buffalo Law and CUNY Law in Flushing, Queens – Gouldin said Binghamton’s location in central New York makes it “well suited, geographically, to deal with the needs of potential lawyers.” He added, “Given the fact that there is no competition with a private school in the immediate area, and the great reputation the university enjoys, Binghamton presents an optimum solution for more affordable law school seats.” The 1997 edition of the Fiske Guide to Colleges called Binghamton “a shining star in the SUNY system, and the best public university in the nation.” Need for a campus law school is demonstrated in tracking statistics kept by the university’s administrators, said DeFleur. She noted that of Binghamton’s approximately 3,000 students, each year some 300 graduates apply to law schools in New York state and elsewhere – at an acceptance rate of 83 percent against the national average rate of 71 percent, according to a recent administrative analysis. ‘Mixed Feelings’ DeFleur acknowledged a delicate barricade she faces in pushing for the law school: the potential argument that SUNY already has a formalized legal education program in Buffalo. Although she did not detail her discussions with officials at Buffalo Law, she allowed that “they probably have mixed feelings.” But in her proposal to the SUNY committees, DeFleur said she would counter “mixed feelings” with the fact that while the system operates a single law school in Buffalo, at the western edge of the state, it maintains four medical schools spread throughout New York. “Buffalo was concerned,” said Binghamton City Court Judge Lehman. “But I just don’t see this as a competitive situation. I see it as giving more people more opportunity.” Nils Olsen, dean at Buffalo Law, agreed that competition was not an issue. “We’ve been established for more than 100 years,” he said. “Our students don’t come to us just because we’re a SUNY law school, they come for the programs we offer. We wouldn’t be recruiting from the same student pool. We recruit nationally, and I think Binghamton’s interest is primarily in keeping their own [undergraduate students].” Olsen did, however, question the need for another law school. “There probably ought to be at least some cost-benefit analysis of what professions in New York are underserved,” he said. “I don’t think anyone would say there aren’t enough lawyers in New York, but there are pretty established shortages of doctors and nurses and dentists. I’m not sure there are enough funds to go around as it is for the planned expansions throughout the [SUNY] system.” Judge Lehman, who also serves as acting judge in Broome County Court, said a law school in Binghamton would constitute a “win-win situation for the university and the community.” She added, “The court certainly hopes to reap the benefits. We’ve had law students coming to us [as summer interns] from other schools and they’ve been a tremendous help. We could now have the opportunity of a ready source of interns throughout the course of the school year. It would give the students practical experience, and it would save money for taxpayers.” Likewise, Gouldin and Orband see advantage to the local bar. They each cited opportunities for adjunct faculty positions for Binghamton attorneys, as well as a more easily available supply of clerks for firms throughout the county. Neutral Opinion Others with neutral views on Binghamton’s hopes and dreams include Lawrence Raful, dean of Touro Law Center in Central Islip, Long Island. “There are a lot of lawyers in New York, but not a lot of jobs. Do we want to put out more lawyers?” he asked. “Would it be moral or ethical or even good business practice to put out more with a limited job market?” On the other hand, he said, “it’s always good for people to know more about the law, whether they wind up teaching or writing for a newspaper. So I see both sides.” Still, Raful wondered if there might be a “better, cheaper way” for the state to support law students. A former dean of Creighton University School of Law, Raful suggested that New York might consider what he proposed – unsuccessfully – during his time in Nebraska: direct tuition support for law school students who pledge to do a stint of public interest work upon graduation, along the lines of what Nebraska lawmakers provide for medical students in their state. “It’s an interesting public policy issue,” said Raful. DeFleur has previous experience in dealing with the wide range of issues that surround substantial campus change. Prior to her arrival at Binghamton 17 years ago, she was provost of the University of Missouri when a new, larger law school building was erected on the campus at Columbia, Mo. “She knows how to go about these things in an orderly fashion,” said Gouldin. “And she’s been here long enough to understand all the steps that have to be taken in New York.” “The thing is,” said Orband of DeFleur, “when Lois decides she’s going to get it done, it gets done.”

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