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Charleston law school
opens this week

By Sarah G. McC. Moise
Charleston Regional Business Journal
Staff Writer
August 2004

“Our concern was that people would be reluctant to enroll in a brand new law school, but judging from the response, our faculty, teachers and building are imparting a sense of confidence,” says John Benfield, assistant dean of admissions for the Charleston School of Law. “Applicants have turned down offers at ABA-accredited law schools to come to us.”

 The new Charleston School of Law is now situated at 81 Mary St. in the space formerly occupied by the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. The remodeled facilities include large and small classrooms, seminar rooms, study areas and a new library. Professors for the first year courses, which include contracts, criminal law, property, torts, legal research and writing, civil procedure and professionalism, have already moved into their new offices.

 Richard Gershon, the dean of the law school, comes to the Charleston School of Law from Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, where during his five-year tenure as dean, he led the school to full ABA accreditation. “We’re still moving in, but we’ll be ready. The school building is technologically complete with a wireless network in study areas and classrooms,” says Gershon. “All students will be required to bring a wireless-enabled laptop.”

 The law faculty will have use of “smart podiums” in the classrooms, which can run a projector, DVD, VHS or PowerPoint presentation. Classrooms are also able to link to live ETV and satellite broadcasts. “Every lawyer in the state is required to get a certain number of hours of continuing legal education, and up to this point, the only place able to do that is Trident Tech. For lawyers downtown, it will be convenient for them to do their CLE programs here,” says Gershon, adding, “We want to be a good resource for the legal community.”

 Another resource for students and local attorneys alike will be the new law library, already outfitted with over 17,000 donated volumes. The school has agreements with their vendors that members of the bar can come in and use the library resources, which could save some firms up to $450,000 by not requiring updated materials. “Students are not likely to use a lot of books, but we have to have them to satisfy the ABA,” says Gershon. The school is in the process of setting up a state-of-the-art, digital ‘e-brary,’ which is likely to satisfy a tech-savvy, first year law student.

 “Everything in the collection is also available electronically, so the students can have access to it by logging on with their laptops. They can print directly to a wireless copy machine or scan directly to the computer,” says Gordon Russell, the school’s associate dean and director of the law library and information services.

 Russell says that this is a great time to set up a law library, because of the number of electronic vendors creating seamless, integrated library catalogues. “There are now 350 retroactively imaged law reviews. So students can sit at home and check online for the full-text Harvard Law Review­all the way back to the first volume.”

He adds, “By January, our online catalogues will have 100,000 records linked to full text. By setting up the library like this, there is an infinite number of square feet, because students take their library with them, in their car, in their home, in their classroom.”

“The challenge is to convince the ABA that this is the way to do it, and that we don’t need hard copies,” explains Gershon. “They want to know if we are capable of setting up a library usable for our students, and I expect the people who will inspect the school will agree that we have accomplished that.”

American Bar Association rules do not allow a law school to apply for ABA accreditation until after completion of its first year of classes. Normally provisional accreditation is granted during the second or third years of a school’s operation if the school is in substantial compliance with each of the ABA standards and presents a reliable plan for bringing the school within full compliance within the next three years. Lack of accreditation didn’t present nearly the problem expected, according to school officials.

 “Nationwide, we’re in a time of record applications to law schools,” says Benfield. Out of 940 applications, the Charleston School of Law has 133 paid deposits for the full-time program. So far, 64 students have committed to the part-time evening program.

 “Our LSAT and GPA scores are both above the national median,” Benfield adds, “which is amazing for an unaccredited, brand new school. The amount of selectivity is also a pretty big endorsement of the support people are showing to the law school. It says a lot about Charleston, the school’s founders and the faculty.”

 Of the student populations, the 75th percentile of LSAT scores was 154, meaning that the top 25% have a LSAT score of 154 or better. The 25th percentile was 150, meaning that the bottom 25% had a 150 LSAT score or lower. The school’s average and median scores are both 152. LSAT scores can range from 120 to 180, with a national median of 151.

 “Relative to a lot of other law schools that are ABA accredited, our numbers are as good or better,” Benfield adds. “We probably were able to be a little more selective. We didn’t have to make as many initial offers of acceptance as other schools.”

 For instance, the University of Dayton, which was founded in 1975 and is comparable in that it is a city school and private, had 1,393 applications, and admitted 792 to get a class of 204. Their 75th percentile scores were the same as Charles­ton’s, and the Charleston School of Law only sent out 300 offers of acceptance for 161 first deposits. Additionally, the 2006 graduating class at USC has a median LSAT score of 158, with a 75th percentile of 160 and a 25th percentile of 155.

 “We know we’re not approved, but we’re playing as if we are,” says Benfield. “People have put their faith in us. We’re not going to let them down.”