Daytona Beach, Fla., is better known for spring break and NASCAR than moot court and blue books, but that could change.
Two Florida attorneys and a developer hope to open a law school in Daytona Beach, possibly as early as fall 2013. The team met with city officials on March 27 to discuss the possible sale or rental of a vacant police station to house the school.
The project is still in the early planning stages, said Eric Smith, an attorney in Jacksonville and former career services dean at Florida Coastal School of Law, one of partners in the project. Steven Nemerson, a lawyer who has taught at the University of Minnesota Law School, Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and Florida Coastal, is on tap to become dean, he said.
“We’ve been discussing this for at least two years,” Smith said. “Of course, in this economic climate it’s tough to find a group of people that share your dream. But we think this area is underserved, and the enthusiasm of the people involved in it is quite high.”
Smith said the partners, who include developer Jim Catlett, have a name in mind for the for-profit school, but declined to reveal it. They hope to enroll 80 students during the inaugural year and eventually as many as 600. The plan is to eventually secure accreditation by the American Bar Association.
The closest existing law school — Florida Coastal — is about 120 miles away. Daytona Beach is large enough to support a law school and is home to health care and aeronautical professionals who might be interested in studying the law, Smith said. In fact, he added, those two industries are possible areas of focus for the school.
Perhaps the biggest draw will be relatively low tuition, Smith said. He did not offer a target tuition rate, but said it would be as much as 30 percent lower than what most private law schools charge. “We believe the cost of a legal education today is significantly higher than it has to be,” he said.
The partners plan to contain costs by using the former police station as a location. And instead of paying faculty to produce massive amounts of scholarship, the focus will be on classroom teaching, Nemerson said.
“There will be no one teaching law and literature,” he said. “At many law schools, there are too many “law and” or vanity courses. It takes limited school resources that could be better used on core law courses and keeping tuition down.”
Smith said that he and his partners are fully aware that law school applications have declined dramatically nationwide during the past two years. Not only that, but the Thomas M. Cooley Law School will soon open a campus in Tampa.
“The reaction you get from some people is, ‘There’s too many lawyers already,’ ” Smith said. “ My reaction is that we are in a nation that prides itself in living by the rule of law. There’s always room for more excellent lawyers.”
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