Senate committee hears proposal to start public program in Dallas
05:56 AM CDT on Tuesday, April 3, 2007
By TERRENCE STUTZ / The Dallas Morning Newststutz@dallasnews.com
AUSTIN – The University of North Texas System would be authorized to establish a new law school in Dallas – ending the area's distinction as the largest metropolitan region in the U.S. without a public law school – under legislation considered Monday by a Senate committee.
The measure by Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, would clear the way for planning and preparation to open a law school in the old Dallas Municipal Building as early as the fall of 2009. Under an agreement between the city and UNT System, Dallas would donate the building and pay half the cost of its renovation.
Mr. West presented the proposal to the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee, citing the "overwhelming support" for the law school in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and North Texas.
"This is a very important project for the city of Dallas in terms of what this means in providing affordable education opportunities," he said.
He noted that about 30 percent of the lawyers practicing in Dallas graduated from out-of-state law schools, partly the result of the lack of an affordable law school in North Texas. The region has two private law schools – at SMU and Texas Wesleyan in Fort Worth. But tuition is about three times as much as public law schools in Texas, according to Mr. West.
Texas now has four public law schools – at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas Tech University, the University of Houston and Texas Southern University – as well as five private law schools.
UNT System Chancellor Lee Jackson was among those who testified for the bill, noting that it "has been 44 years and millions of lawyer jokes" since Texas created its last public law school.
"It's not about whether Texas needs more lawyers, but whether college graduates from North Texas have a reasonable opportunity to earn a law degree if they so choose," he said.
Mr. Jackson pointed out that a new law school would be far less expensive to establish than a medical school, making it a more viable expansion of the university system.
Also testifying was former state District Judge Jay Patterson of Dallas, who said law firms in the area have found it increasingly difficult to attract enough law school graduates – particularly minorities – to fill their needs.
The bill proposes spending about $6.2 million in state funds over the next two years to get the school up and running by the fall of 2009. The funds would be used to hire faculty and administrators, set up a library and pay debt service on revenue bonds that would be used for renovation of the old Dallas Municipal Building.
Before construction begins, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board would conduct a feasibility study on the proposed law school. It would initially be operated as a professional school of the UNT System and eventually become a part of UNT-Dallas.