Florida university to open first new U.S. law school since 2014

Students attend their graduation ceremony at the HSBA in Hamburg
REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer
  • New school in Jacksonville would fill a void left by Florida Coastal School of Law's 2021 closure
  • Other law school newcomers have struggled in recent years

(Reuters) - A small, private university in Jacksonville said Monday that it plans to open a law school next fall in the northeastern Florida city. It would be the first new U.S. law school to launch in nearly a decade, while at least six have closed in the same period.

Officials at Jacksonville University plan to enroll 20 to 30 students in the law school to start and then grow to 150 over the next two years. They will seek accreditation from the American Bar Association — a distinction necessary for graduates to take the bar exam in Florida and elsewhere. The Jacksonville University College of Law would be the 12th law school in the state.

The city of Jacksonville has pledged $5 million in public funds to get the school off the ground alongside an undisclosed amount of private money. Mayor Lenny Curry noted that Jacksonville is currently the largest U.S. city without a law school.

“Too often, our citizens must choose to leave Jacksonville to pursue a legal education,” Curry said in public remarks. “This College of Law will offer a prime opportunity for current residents and serve as a magnet to attract talent back into our city and our downtown.”

The announcement comes less than a year after the Jacksonville-based for-profit Florida Coastal School of Law ceased operations amid declining enrollment, financial shortfalls, accreditation problems and a poor track record of graduates passing the bar and finding legal jobs. The school once enrolled nearly 4,000 students at a time, but the number of students had dwindled to 135 by the summer of 2021.

Several relatively new law schools have faced rocky roads. The public Indiana Tech Law School shuttered in 2017 after just four years due to low enrollment and a $20 million operating loss. Private Concordia University School of Law in Boise closed in 2020 after eight years when its parent institution went under. The University of North Texas at Dallas School of Law, which opened in 2014, has stayed open.

Lawmakers in Texas and West Virginia have recently weighed the addition of public law schools in their respective states.

A Jacksonville University spokeswoman said Tuesday that officials expect to spend as much as $5 million to establish the law school, which will be housed away from the main campus in a downtown office building. They plan to start with a faculty of four and add professors over time.

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com