Elon Law Celebrates 10th Anniversary
Community, civic and philanthropic leaders gather a decade after launching a “law school with a difference.”
In the decade since Elon University School of Law welcomed its charter class, the school in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina has graduated hundreds of students with an ethos of service and leadership now benefiting their communities and the legal profession.
It has contributed to the vibrancy of a thriving downtown with a student body, and more than 60 faculty and staff, who live, work and study in the city.
It has opened clinics and created opportunities for students to provide direct services to entrepreneurs, immigrants, older residents and children caught up in the court system, among others, as part of their studies.
And Elon Law has put words into practice and led a national dialogue on the reinvention of legal education by creating a 2.5-year curriculum that includes a full-time, course-connected residency in the practice of law.
If there was ever a place for a law school to make bold changes, Elon Law leaders said, Greensboro would be it.
“Think about Greensboro’s history,” Elon Law Dean Luke Bierman said during a special luncheon held March 17 to celebrate the school’s 10th anniversary year. “In the Revolutionary War, it is where the fight for independence was reinvented, and led to the surrender by the British in Virginia. During the Industrial Revolution, it was where manufacturing was reinvented, especially in textiles, and we all know that story. And in the information age today, Greensboro continues to reinvent itself, again and again, to make sure it is part of the new economy.
“That is what Elon Law is doing: reinventing itself while reinventing legal education. It’s in our DNA in Greensboro, and it’s in our DNA in Elon, a university that has reinvented itself over the last 30 years.”
Bierman delivered his remarks at the Proximity Hotel in Greensboro where dozens of guests gathered to reflect on the impact of Elon Law in North Carolina since it opened for the 2006-07 academic year.
Celebrating the past was only part of the program as Bierman, Elon Provost Steven House, Associate Dean Faith Rivers James, and Jim Melvin, president of the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation, shared hopes for the future.
“I look at this project, really, like an annuity for our community,” said Melvin, one of Elon Law’s earliest and energetic advocates when, in 2002, Elon University leaders announced interest in opening a school. “This project is going to pay us dividends forever. Think about it. About 350 young, bright minds there every day, and living and doing all the things they do in this community. And then you have a faculty – highly talented, creative people – who live here. That is a dividend that is huge to our community.”
Elon Law’s students in 2015-16 contributed an estimated 14,345 hours to the community through a combination of pro bono work, clinical coursework, unpaid internships/externships and a leadership course. Ninety-eight percent of those hours were logged in North Carolina’s Piedmont Triad.
In attendance at the luncheon were Elon Law Founding Dean Leary Davis, who passed away July 20, and Professor George Johnson, the dean of Elon Law from 2008-2014 who guided the school through full accreditation from the American Bar Association. In addition to Elon Law alumni, faculty and staff, other guests included philanthropic leaders, civic and business officials, and the presidents of three local colleges.
Steven House represented Elon President Leo M. Lambert, who had traveled to Maryland with the university’s women’s basketball team for its first-ever appearance in the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. House shared Lambert’s gratitude for those in the room whose support made Elon Law into the success it is today.
“You have transformed the lives of young men and women, and you have transformed this community,” House said. “We are incredibly proud of the many, many ways our law school reaches out into the community.”
The program included a moment of silence for three members of the Elon Law community who have died over the past year: Eugenia Leggett-Frank, founding associate dean of development; Michael L. Rich, associate professor of law and Elon Law’s Jennings Emerging Scholar; and Juma Jackson, a member of the Class of December 2017.
The program emphasized evidence that Elon Law is catching the attention of entrepreneurial students attracted to Greensboro by the school’s experiential education and accelerated program.
Applications to Elon Law are up nearly 30 percent since faculty reinvented a curriculum that today requires more experiential academic credits than any other law school in the nation, anchored by a unique residency-in-practice with students working full-time as part of their education. The school’s new trimester calendar graduates students in 2.5 years and allows them to sit for the February bar exam to begin their careers nearly six months ahead of graduates from other schools.
Tuition growth has been curtailed to the point that the cost of a law degree from Elon is nearly 20 percent below the average for a private law school education in the United States.
“Though the mission to be the preeminent law school for leadership and engaged learning remains, our methods have changed a bit,” Rivers James said in her welcoming remarks. “With the support of a visionary university administration, the law school has chartered a new approach to legal education.
“Working together, we have developed and launched an innovative curriculum that is focused on centered learning and provides integrated experiential learning opportunities to better prepare our graduates for practice.”