Note: This article has been amended to correctly identify California Desert Trial Academy’s co-founder. He is John Patrick Dolan.
Concordia University School of Law
Seventy-four students comprise the inaugural class of the Concordia University School of Law in Boise, the first law school in Idaho’s capital. The school is part of Concordia University in Portland, Ore. — a private, Christian, liberal-arts university.
“We’re very excited, and the students are excited as well,” said dean Cathy Silak, a former justice of the Idaho Supreme Court. “On the first night of orientation, they wanted to start classes.”
University officials began contemplating opening a law school in Boise, which is about a seven-hour drive from Portland, in 2007. They pointed to an unmet demand for legal education in the city — the closest full-service law school was the University of Idaho College of Law in Moscow, 300 miles away. Moreover, the Portland market was already served by Lewis & Clark Law School, with both the University of Oregon School of Law and Willamette University College of Law within 100 miles.
Moreover, there was no part-time law program in the state, Silak said. Some 30 percent of Concordia’s inaugural class is attending part time.
By 2008, administrators had purchased a 53,000-square-foot building in downtown Boise. They spent $10.2 million renovating the space, which they hope eventually will serve as many as 300 students. The school plans to apply for accreditation by the American Bar Association.
In addition to Silak, the school employs six full-time professors, one lecturer in law and four part-time legal research and writing instructors.
Annual tuition is $28,500 — well below the average $39,184 for private law schools, according to the ABA.
The school apparently has received significant support from Boise’s legal community. Each student has been paired with a mentor attorney or judge — and the school has plenty of volunteer mentors, Silak said. They will teach professionalism and ethics plus nuts-and-bolts skills including records-keeping and interacting with clients.
“The law school is located right in the heart of downtown Boise. We are steps away from the largest courthouses in the state,” she said. “The students have unique access to the legal community.”
Concordia won’t be the only game in town for long — the University of Idaho is slowly establishing a satellite campus in Boise. It already offers third-year courses and recently received preliminary state approval to add second-year courses. Eventually, that school plans to offer a full three-year curriculum, giving students the option to attend in either Moscow or Boise, said dean Donald Burnett.
Savannah Law School
Despite what visitors may have heard during this city’s popular ghost tours, there are no dead bodies in the future home of the Savannah Law School. Even though a tunnel connected to the property once served as a makeshift morgue.
“I’m assured there are no ghosts haunting the building,” said Richardson Lynn, dean of the fledgling law school in one of the country’s most historic cities.
The Savannah Law School is a branch campus of Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School. It opened on August 20 with 45 students, and within weeks will move into its permanent home in a 110,000-square-foot former hospital built in 1819 and connected by that tunnel to the famous Forsyth Park.
The outpost represents John Marshall’s second foray into the coastal Georgia city; it maintained a branch campus there during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Administrators felt it was time to return, given that the nearest American Bar Association-accredited law school is 90 minutes or more away by car.
They envisioned that most students would come from the immediate area. In reality, about half of the school’s 30 day students are from out of state. All 15 night students are local. “We’re getting people from Texas, Utah, California and a few from the Northeast,” said Lynn, who is also the dean of John Marshall. “Some of them seem to have come because they were attracted to Savannah.”
Administrators hope to bring in 90 first-year students next year and eventually build a student body of around 450. The fact that the school has not yet earned full accreditation by the American Bar Association made for a harder sell, Lynn said, but the school made itself attractive by boosting its scholarship awards. Its first accreditation review should happen next year; because it is affiliated with John Marshall, Savannah Law School will not have to go through the provisional accreditation process and waiting period, Lynn said.
The school has five faculty members and an associate dean.
For now, the curriculum is identical to that at John Marshall, although Lynn expects that eventually the school will offer unique electives especially relevant in Savannah, such as maritime law and art law.
California Desert Trial Academy
Attorney John Patrick Dolan met plenty of skepticism when he unveiled his vision for a law school in California’s Coachella Valley that would focus on preparing students for trial advocacy. Detractors argued that California doesn’t need any more lawyers or law schools, but Dolan saw unmet demand in Indio, about 70 miles away from the next closest law school — the California Southern Law School in Riverside, Calif.
Dolan and local supporters pushed forward and in early September welcomed 16 students to the California Desert Trial Academy. In June, the State Bar of California recognized the project as a registered, unaccredited, fixed-facility law school that can confer J.D.s, but administrators ran into a snag when it came to financial aid for students. Without accreditation by the state bar, the American Bar Association or another regional accrediting body, students are not eligible for federal education loans. The 16 students who are enrolled are paying the $12,000 annual tuition out-of-pocket, Dolan said.
“The financial aid is an obstacle we need to overcome, and we’re working on resolving that,” he said. “We would have had a class of about 25 students this year, but some people said they couldn’t do it without access to federal loans.” Dolan plans to ask an accrediting agency to evaluate the curriculum and facilities this year. Pending accreditation, students will have to sit for California’s First Year Law Students’ Exam, also known as the “baby bar,” following their first year.
This year’s crop of students comprise almost entirely career changers, including a real estate agent, a doctor, a political aide and a court clerk. The average student is “well over 30″ years old, Dolan said. The curriculum is designed to take four years to complete.
For now, classes are held in the local law library, but the school is in the final stages of purchasing a building and Dolan expects renovations to be completed in time for the next academic year. Keeping with the trial-advocacy theme, the renovated building will include several mock courtrooms.
Dolan hopes to enroll between 100 and 120 students within four years. The 10 faculty members are practicing attorneys. “We’re interested in being an ABA-accredited law school, but that’s probably a decade down the road,” Dolan said.