Elon trustees this week continued their push for the
law school, which could be approved as soon as this summer and open in fall
2006. Greensboro civic leaders, led by former Mayor Jim Melvin, have raised more
than $6 million toward a $10 million goal in the past two months. Elon has
studied the idea for two years and says it will add $3 million to the start-up
Elon postpones decision
on downtown GSO law school
May 11, 2004
Elon University's trustees have extended their deadline indefinitely
regarding their decision on whether to open a law school in downtown
Jim Melvin, former Greensboro mayor and president of the Joseph M. Bryan
Foundation, has been scrambling for the past two months to raise $10 million
to meet Elon's requirements for a new law school.
In March, the Elon trustees announced they wanted to create a law school in
the former Greensboro City Library building at North Greene Street and
Friendly Avenue. But in order to move forward with that location, Elon needs
Greensboro to come up with $10 million.
Trustees initially said they would make a final decision by May 11, and
gave Melvin until that day to raise the money.
So far, Melvin has pledges for more than $6 million.
"By allowing the process to continue for additional time, we are
confident that the goal of raising $10 million in startup funding from
external sources can be realized," Elon President Leo M. Lambert said
Tuesday in announcing the trustees' decision.
The university still hopes to open the law school and enroll its first
class in the fall of 2006, Lambert said.
"This is a fairly expensive venture in launching a new law school,"
Elon President Leo Lambert said. "We've come to the conclusion we only want
to do it if we can do it well."
Elon is one of several universities hoping to get a piece of legal education
in the state. In Charlotte, UNC-Charlotte is studying the idea, and Queens
University will consider a law school in its 2007-2012 academic plan. But
neither of those schools has money for the venture yet.
Two weeks ago, however, a whole new player entered the competition for the
Queen City. Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville and its parent company
applied to start the for-profit Charlotte International School of Law.
According to a 600-page application sent to the UNC system's headquarters in
Chapel Hill, the school aims to start with 70 students in 2005. But the review
process could take many months, and there's no guarantee the company will pass
muster for a license to operate in North Carolina.
Experts say there is room for more law schools in North Carolina, which ranks
next-to-last in the United States in the number of lawyers per capita -- one for
every 502 residents, said Leary Davis, founding dean of Campbell University's
law school. The national ratio is one lawyer for every 268 people.
More lawyers needed
Demand for law schools goes in cycles, surging during economic slumps. During
the past few years, the job market has been poor, but placement of law school
graduates has "just been phenomenal," said Davis, whom Elon hired as a
consultant. As more baby boomers retire from the profession, the demand for
lawyers will grow, he said.
Meanwhile, North Carolina's schools are turning away more qualified
applicants as more people apply each year. At Campbell, applications are up 12
percent this spring.
"We've got a lot of people who a few years ago we would have loved to
have had, but we can't accept them," Davis said.
Law schools are reluctant to increase enrollment too much because large
classes can hurt quality.
Some nearby states have new law schools that are helping North Carolina meet
its demand. About half of the people who take the state's bar exam went to law
school outside North Carolina, Davis said.
That's why universities see new opportunity for legal education. Donald
Lively, founding dean of Florida Coastal, will travel to Charlotte this week to
scout downtown real estate. Of the nation's top 50 cities, Charlotte and El
Paso, Texas, are the only two without law schools, he said.
"It's substantially underserved," Lively said. "Actually, you
could make the case that it's unserved. It won't be like that forever."
A team of law deans and professors will review the application from Florida
Coastal. It's unclear what kind of reception a for-profit law school will
receive in North Carolina. Final approval must come from the UNC Board of
Governors for any new school to operate in the state.
Elon, with its rising academic reputation, may have the best shot. It aims
for a small law school, with about 300 students at full enrollment.
Greensboro movers and shakers like the possibility of a law school downtown.
"We are obviously like every city, trying to maintain and revitalize our
core area," said Melvin, the former mayor who is president of the Joseph
Bryan Foundation. "Our community is very excited about it."
So excited, Melvin said, that one supporter approached him on the street
Wednesday and offered $10,000 for the effort.
Lambert, the Elon president, said a downtown law campus makes sense. The
Triad is knitting together into one community, he said, and graduate students
are likely to prefer an urban environment in Greensboro to Elon's pastoral
The university is negotiating with the city manager to take over a former
library that is a block away from the federal courthouse. It would cost about $6
million to renovate the building and another $2.75 million to set up a law
library from scratch.
"We began to think more seriously about the idea of an urban law school,
smack dab in the middle of a neighborhood with tremendous legal resources
nearby," Lambert said. "The more we began to think about it, the more
appealing it became to us."
That doesn't mean Elon, with 4,500 students, is turning away from its
undergraduate liberal arts mission, the president added. The university offers
only three graduate degrees -- in business, physical therapy and education.
"We like where we are," he said. "We like being primarily an
But the university doesn't want to miss this opportunity.
"It's very clear to us that another law school is going to be started in
North Carolina within the next five years," Lambert said, adding that he
doesn't want to look back 10 years from now and say, "woulda, coulda,