When Elon trustees voted Oct. 29 to establish the Elon University School of Law in Greensboro, there was a shared feeling that history was being made. Launching a law school is exciting and daunting, similar to creating a new college from the ground up. In addition, we are taking on the challenge of creating a new campus beyond our historical base in Alamance County.
Our partner Jim Melvin, president of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, who spearheaded the successful $10 million fund drive, talked with Elon trustees that day about making history. He recalled Mr. Bryan's foresight and commitment to his community's future. We are proud to be partners with more than 20 foundations, corporations and individuals who share that vision and are willing to invest in Greensboro's future.
First and foremost, Elon University says an emphatic thank you to the people who are helping to make this school a reality.
Why a law school matters
Start a conversation about a law school around the office cooler and it won't take long for the first lawyer joke to surface. The first reaction for many people is a simple one: "We don't need more lawyers."
But our research discovered that North Carolina faces a potential shortage of attorneys, and there is indeed room for another law school in the state. With a growing state population and a large number of practicing lawyers approaching retirement age, the demand for legal services in North Carolina may soon surpass the ability of lawyers to meet the need.
At the same time, many young North Carolinians who want to pursue a career in the law are forced to go out of state for their education. In 2003, each of the five existing North Carolina law schools accepted only about 20 percent of applicants and approximately three out of four prospective students were denied admittance to any of the North Carolina law schools.
Our state is a net importer of lawyers. This year, about 47 percent of those who took the North Carolina bar exam for the first time graduated from law schools outside the state. We think the state would be better served by educating our brightest students here and helping them begin their careers in their home state. Those law school graduates would bring to their work with a deep and personal understanding of North Carolina law and government, a fact that would be of significant benefit to their clients. They would also be well positioned to put their legal education to good use as community leaders.
Lawyers as leaders
A focus on leadership will be central to the mission of the Elon University School of Law, drawing on a core strength of our undergraduate programs. Elon's current undergraduate and graduate programs are informed by the University’s mission statement, which includes the assertion that “We integrate learning across the disciplines and put knowledge into practice, thus preparing students to be global citizens and informed leaders motivated by concern for the common good. “ These same values will be central to the law school mission.
There is an ongoing conversation about a new paradigm in legal education among the nation's law school deans and faculty. To put it simply, legal educators want to move beyond knowledge of the law and a basic skill set to embrace the broader skills and responsibilities attorneys need in their roles as civic and organizational leaders. We believe many top faculty members will be attracted to a university that intends to build a program on this foundation.
Elon and Greensboro
We believe Elon is the best-positioned university in North Carolina to establish a new law school. We have a growing national reputation, an innovative faculty and staff, strong trustee leadership, a history of creativity and success in launching new academic programs and ensuring quality, and a solid financial base.
In addition, we have partners in Greensboro who are prepared to help us make this a premier academic institution.
The downtown Greensboro location provides a perfect legal learning laboratory. Our students will have opportunities to attend federal and county court proceedings and interact with attorneys at many of the state's most prestigious law firms.
The former public library building is an ideal facility for a law school. Constructed to bear the weight of tens of thousands of books, the building offers plenty of space for custom classrooms and study areas.
Downtown Greensboro will be attractive to young professionals who will thrive in a center city that is coming alive with activity. The more than 300 students who will be enrolled by 2008 will join about 45-50 faculty and staff members in generating business and activity—another important step in the downtown's renaissance.
We believe that Elon and its Alamance County neighbors will enjoy similar benefits. As the Triad continues to expand east, our communities are growing together. The old boundaries that sometimes seemed to separate Elon and Burlington from the rest of the Triad are disappearing as we increasingly appreciate our interdependence. We believe that helping to strengthen this strategic relationship will be one of the law school's greatest benefits.
The Elon University School of Law will be resource for the entire Triad. It will be a success of our combined efforts—a celebration of cooperation and teamwork.