Alaska may finally get a law school. Sort of.
Seattle University School of Law has announced a partnership with Alaska Pacific University allowing the law school to operate a satellite campus in Anchorage. If all goes according to plan, Seattle will offer a full 3L curriculum in Alaska in fall 2015.
Alaska, nicknamed “The Last Frontier,” is also the last frontier for legal education—it’s the only state without a law school. That won’t change, but the Alaska Pacific/Seattle partnership will allow Alaskans to complete their final year of law school in state.
“We are so proud to partner with APU, and we look forward to continuing to meet the needs of Alaskan students and the legal community in the state,” Seattle dean Annette Clark said. “Seattle University has been committed to Alaska for over 12 years, and housing a satellite law school campus at APU is a natural extension of this commitment.”
The law school has offered summer classes at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, for more than a decade. The school announced in 2013 that it was pursuing a third-year program with that university, but administrators ended up going with Alaska Pacific, which will also host the summer law program in the future.
Clark said that the University of Alaska had a change of leadership in the year since it entered into a preliminary agreement with the law school, and the new top administrators wanted to re-evaluate the satellite law campus project. Meanwhile, Seattle was committed to moving forward and the new partnership with Alaska Pacific made more sense, she said.
“We look forward to a long relationship with Seattle University School of Law and helping more Alaskans achieve their goal of earning a significant part of their law degree in Alaska,” Alaska Pacific president Don Bantz said.
Katherine Hedland Hansen, director of communications for the law school, said administrators don’t yet know how many students might enroll in the Anchorage 3L program, in part because it will be open to Alaskans attending other law schools—not just Seattle.
Students from other ABA-accredited law schools will be allowed to attend the Anchorage program as visiting students, but still earn degrees from the school where they spent their first two years, Clark said.
“We’re starting small, and I think the program will always be relatively small,” Clark said. “I’d be happy if we started with 10 students.”
Alaska Pacific has received a donation from Jonathan Rubini, founder and chief executive officer of Fairbanks-based real estate development company J.L. Properties Inc., earmarked for the satellite campus. The Alaska court system has offered its library and courtroom for evening and weekend instruction and moot court competitions.
“We anticipate that the satellite campus will open the door to legal and judicial careers to many more Alaskans and will have a direct impact on increasing diversity in our profession,” said Alaska Chief Justice Dana Fabe, who has supported the program.
The satellite campus is not a done deal just yet, however. Seattle still must gain the approval of the American Bar Association’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, which could come as early as August. An ABA site inspection team visited the main Seattle campus in May.
Seattle isn’t the only law school eyeing Alaska. Willamette University College of Law in Salem, Ore., and the University of Alaska, Anchorage, in May announced a “3+3” program that would allow students to earn both an undergraduate and law degree in six years rather than the typical seven. The program could serve as a pipeline to bring Alaskan undergraduates to the Salem law school.