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Mills College Considers Opening a Law School

By Matt Krupnick
Contra Costa Times
October 31, 2005

There could be a lot more arguing in the future of quiet Mills College.

College leaders are deciding whether to open a law school on the 135-acre private Oakland campus, in part to encourage women leaders and to promote public-service legal work.

Mills officials have pondered the idea of a law school since 1997, when the college hosted a national summit on women in legal education. The concept has gained steam recently, but school leaders still are studying whether a Mills law school would be worth the long and expensive accreditation process.

The main goal is to build a school that provides something different from the slew of other law programs in the Bay Area, said Renee Jadushlever, Mills' vice president for information resources. A Mills law school likely would require students to experience pro-bono work and learn about litigation alternatives such as mediation, she said.

"We really feel there's a niche for the kind of curriculum we would like to provide," Jadushlever said. "It builds on the core values that the college has abided by since its inception in 1852."

While nearly everything about the proposal is hypothetical, officials are sure the school would be located on Mills' main campus and that it would admit men. The college's 880 undergraduates are women, but its graduate programs are open to men.

The law school would enroll 50 students its first year, Jadushlever said, but that inaugural class could be several years away.

"We really don't have a time frame here," she said.

Six Bay Area law schools are accredited by the American Bar Association, but only one -- UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall -- is in the East Bay. St. Mary's College had one that enrolled up to 125 students, but it closed after the college moved from Oakland to Moraga in 1928.

Mills' law school would be unique in its location at a small liberal-arts school. It may help that Mills could distinguish itself from larger law schools such as UC Hastings and Boalt Hall, said Jonathan Brown, president of the Association of Independent California Colleges and Universities.

"I think the challenge of taking on a law school is can you meet a unique need that's not being met by another school," Brown said. "Their ability to meet students' needs is ultimately tested in the marketplace."

An intimate setting might be just the thing for a new law school, said 1994 Mills alumna Lara Stemple, who later received her law degree at Harvard University and now is director of graduate studies at the UCLA law school.

"I loved my Mills education while I was there," she said, "but I grew to appreciate it even more when I went to Harvard, where the classes are huge and the teachers are inaccessible."

Kelly Cole, an attorney and 1992 Mills alumna, also said the college's small size could enhance legal studies.

"Really, that's what law school's all about - sitting around a table with your professor and other students discussing a case," said Cole, counsel to the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee. "It's a natural extension (for Mills), it seems to me."