Forward Motion: Boise Summons Two New Law Schools 

University of Idaho and Concordia University both set to open schools in Boise

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U of I's third-year program has forged an agreement with Boise State for students to share the Broncos' recreational and student health facilities. It also offers a concurrent J.D. and Masters of Accountancy-Tax program with Boise State and plans to offer a joint J.D. and MBA program soon.

"Everybody worries about football, but in reality, these university units are really cooperating at really deep levels," said Dillion.

Silak also hopes that Concordia and U of I will be able to forge partnerships once both institutions are in full swing.

"Hopefully once we get up and rolling, we can have some collaboration with them in terms of maybe some shared programs--bring in one specialized professor," said Silak. "I think that's several years down the road but certainly the proximity offers that as potential."

While Dillion is open to collaboration between the two new law schools, he's a bit more tentative.

"Until they're actually functioning and approved by the [American Bar Association], there's probably not a lot that we can do in terms of joint programming," said Dillion. "They've got a regulatory process, they've got to hire faculty, they've got to design curriculum, they've got to recruit students, they've got a lot of work ahead of them. Building the building is the easy part. So, when and if they get up and operational and they're offering programming, I'd imagine that we'd do the same thing that law schools do in any urban environment, in that there are natural areas of cooperation."

Neither three-year law program will be ABA-approved when it opens, but both are required to achieve provisional accreditation before students can sit for the Idaho State Bar exam. The number of ABA-approved law schools has grown 9 percent over the last decade and now numbers around 200. According to ABA guidelines, before a school can receive provisional accreditation, a site team of ABA representatives must first critically evaluate the program by attending classes, meeting with staff and talking with state bar members.

"Obviously we cannot assure any student that we will definitely achieve that accreditation, so we would be working with the State of Idaho and any other state where the students wanted to take the bar to try to create a waiver system for them to try to take the bar exam," said Silak.

Students enrolling in U of I's third-year law program, in fact, had to gamble on whether it would obtain accreditation.

"We didn't know until we were actually down here that we were accredited, so everybody that came down here, we were just hoping. We had our fingers crossed," said Fowler.

Diane Minnich, executive director of the Idaho State Bar Association, is optimistic that Concordia is on the path to accreditation.

"I just can't imagine that they won't be provisionally accredited, given everything I know they have done to meet those accreditation standards," said Minnich. "It's a difficult process and they have met with the ABA numerous times. They know exactly what they need to do and when they need to do it."

But once both law school programs are fully housed, staffed and accredited, that's where their paths will likely diverge. Tuition--and the subsequent student-loan burden--will be a factor setting the two schools apart.

"Over the long term, if you look 20 years from now when Concordia is accredited, it will be interesting to see how students choose between the two schools and whether there is competition or if they each have their own focus and are meeting a niche part of the legal market," said Gowland.

To keep tuition competitive, Concordia is currently seeking scholarship funding.

"Private law schools are typically a lot more expensive than public law schools, and we want to really narrow that gap as much as we can, so we've been raising funding for scholarships," explained Martinez-Anderson. "Tuition hasn't been set officially--nationally, tuition for a private school is now nearing about $35,000 and our goal is to keep it well below that, so we're looking more in the range between $20,000 and $30,000."

The University of Idaho's College of Law currently costs $12,940 a year for in-state tuition and $24,532 for out-of-state. According to U of I data, the class of 2010 had a starting salary average of $50,683. But those stats can be misleading.

"The salary data, it tends to show two clusters: There are clusters of entry-level compensation available to young lawyers who go into either the public sector or public interest work ... and then there's another cluster, which is a narrower cluster of individuals who go to work in law firms or in businesses, usually in large metropolitan areas, where salaries are higher ... Some law schools, and we've tried to be careful not to fall into this, will quote what the average salaries are ... but almost nobody is in the average or the median, instead they're in one cluster or the other," said Burnett.

The salary range for that same class is much more dramatic, spanning from $25,000 on the low end to $115,200 on the high.

"We have a great concern that sometimes people will chose law school thinking that they're going to be average or above in earnings. Eventually they will get there, but coming right out of law school, they have to be very careful about the amount of debt that they carry," said Burnett. "That's one of the arguments, frankly, in favor of public legal education."

Which brings us to the job market for lawyers in Idaho. Many in the legal community have expressed a need for more well-qualified lawyers in Boise, emphasis on well-qualified.

"I think there's always a need for more well-qualified lawyers. The danger, and it was always a concern, is if you have three law schools you will dilute the quality of the students," said Clark.

According to Minnich, there are currently 5,500 lawyers licensed in Idaho, in some form or another, of which 2,486 graduated from U of I. These two new law programs will increase the number of lawyers in the state, she said, but not by as much as one might think.

"People assume that if you open a law school, you're going to have lots more lawyers flooding the market. In Idaho, I'm not sure that's true because I think that some of them won't practice here, some of them won't practice at all," said Minnich.

Burnett echoed that statement. Not everyone who obtains a law degree will go on to become a trial lawyer, he explained.

"One important thing to remember is that nationally about 30 percent or so of people who get J.D. degrees do not go into the traditional practice of law," said Burnett.

Whether these new grads go on to head nonprofits, become CEOs at local companies or run their own practices, Dillion insists that law school will give them a leg up.

"With a law degree ... you've honed your critical thinking skills so that you can go into all these different industries and be productive and be valuable even if you never really practice law," said Dillion. "We think this market needs more of those kinds of people as well."

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