Friday, December 23, 2011

Education:  Law Schools

The debate about legal education has focused on tuition costs in the stratospheric layers of the law-school world. But what of the ground floor? Duncan hopes to draw students from economically distressed parts of the country, including the Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee, and sincere efforts have been made to keep overhead to a minimum.

But tuition here is still $28,664 a year. With living expenses and various fees, the student handbook warns, the total price tag for a year runs $50,000.

The reason, according to Pete DeBusk, a retired businessman and the school's main benefactor, is the A.B.A. standards. Without them, he says, Duncan could have cut its tuition in half, maybe by two-thirds.

... the United States churns out roughly 45,000 lawyers a year, but survey after survey finds enormous unmet need for legal services, particularly in low- and middle-income communities. This year, the World Justice Project put the United States dead last among 11 high-income countries in providing access to civil justice.
Nashville School of Law [is] a night school that started as the Nashville Y.M.C.A. Night Law School in 1911. Nashville's graduates are not recruited by large corporate firms. Most will remain in Tennessee, because only a few states deem a diploma from a school that lacks A.B.A. accreditation as a ticket to practice.

But tuition costs $21,000 — in total, for all four years it takes to complete the degree. The reasons? Nobody has tenure. There are no full-time professors. The library costs $65,000 a year.

Our mission from Day 1, says Virginia M. Townzen, associate dean, was to provide a quality, affordable education to those who might not otherwise be able to attend law school.

The graduates get high marks from local judges, including Lawrence H. Puckett of the 10th Judicial District of Tennessee. Some of our more outstanding practitioners have come through the Nashville School, he said. Many of the teachers are judges that I know, and I'm sure they are excellent instructors. But I think it's also the quality of students. They persevere while also holding down a job. That speaks highly of their character.

For more, see The Price to Play Its Way by David Segal, December 17, 2011 at NYTimes.com.

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