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Practical look at law

School plans to turn out ready-to-work graduates

Luci Scott
Arizona Business Gazette
Jun. 3, 2004

Come January, a few dozen law students will begin night classes in downtown Phoenix, and indications are this won't be your father's law school.

The Phoenix International School of Law, which was licensed by Arizona regulators May 27, is an offshoot of the for-profit Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, which opened in 1996.

"The school is very focused on graduating practice-ready lawyers," said Don Lively, the dean of the Phoenix school.

The students will learn about practical matters: passing the state Bar exam, getting jobs and learning how to practice law before they are hired by firms, which too often in the past served as their introduction to the real world.

"If you look at the traditional model of law school and what counts most, you will find a focus that connects up more with scholarship, research and faculty priorities rather than what it is that enables students to be very successful when they graduate," said Lively, who attended law school at Berkeley.

Phoenix International won't forgo abstract discussions and lectures with Socratic dialogue, he said, but "we're getting practical skills into the classroom beginning Day One, throughout the entire curriculum. . . . You can expand your mind" and be taught and mentored by "faculty who have meaningful experience in the world of practice."

In the future, Lively predicted, law graduates will need to be more self-reliant right away.

"Small and mid-size firms can't make up for the education deficit as they have in the past."

He predicted the students at Phoenix International will reflect diversity.

"Looking at Florida Coastal, three things distinguish it," he said. "It's student-centered, it's very community-connected, and multiculturalism is the norm rather than aspiration."

Florida Coastal has 17.5 percent minority students and 47 percent women.

Another goal for the school, Lively said, is "a highly civil environment that avoids so many of the pathologies and dysfunctionalities that impair a lot of institutions."

He said he wants to discourage "manipulative, undermining, Machiavellian types of behavior, which is not unique to higher education, but which tends to be more intense there simply because the lines of accountability are probably not as established as maybe in other organizations."

Lively is also senior vice president of the Legal Education Holding Corp., based in Naples, Fla.

It is the holding company for the Phoenix school, for Florida Coastal and another law school beginning in Charlotte, N.C.

The Phoenix school is scheduled to start full-time day and night operations in fall 2005.

Florida has 10 law schools, of which eight, including Florida Coastal, are accredited by the American Bar Association.

In February, 79.2 percent of Florida Coastal law graduates passed the state Bar exam, second only to the University of Florida's pass rate of 88.8 percent, according to the Florida Bar Association. Florida Coastal's job placement rate is 93.7 percent, Lively said.

Tuition in Phoenix will be $11,740 a semester full time and $8,805 a semester for part time (12 or fewer credit hours). Full and partial scholarships will be available.

Officials hope to get the Phoenix school accredited by the ABA by the time the first class graduates, said Dennis Stone, chief operating officer of the holding company.

Phoenix International is being funded by the holding company, which is capitalized by Sterling Partners, a Chicago-based equity firm.

The site of the school is not certain, but negotiations are under way for a lease at the old Arizona Republic building at Second and Van Buren streets, which is owned by Sterling Partners.

Lively, who practiced law in Denver and Washington, D.C., taught at the University of Toledo in Ohio and the University of West Virginia before joining Florida Coastal. He has written casebooks on constitutional law and criminal procedure widely used in law schools, and his primary area of expertise is constitutional law.

"Most law schools exist because the university said, 'Let's have a law school,' " Lively said.

"This school was started with the question of what's wrong with legal education, why aren't things moving in the direction they should and how can we deal with that?" Lively said.

"Many established institutions operate in slow motion and sometimes have an agenda that resists any sort of meaningful change."

 

. . WELCOME TO THE DESERT

Don Lively, the dean of the new Phoenix International School of Law, was in town last week to meet with state regulators who licensed the school and gave it the green light to start night classes in January in downtown Phoenix. While in town, Lively and his wife, Pamela, closed on their new house in far north Scottsdale, a house she found on the Internet. The new school is an offshoot of the Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville.

May. 30, 2004

Arizona Republic