Newest U.S. law school has big plans, few students so far

REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer
  • Jacksonville University's new law school started classes this week with 14 students
  • It's the first new law school to open since 2014

(Reuters) - The Jacksonville University College of Law became the first new U.S. law school to open in nearly a decade when its inaugural cohort of 14 students arrived on campus Monday.

Until this week, Jacksonville was the largest U.S. city without a law school following the abrupt closure of the for-profit Florida Coastal School of Law. That school shuttered last year amid declining enrollment, financial shortfalls, accreditation problems and a poor track record of graduates passing the bar and finding legal jobs.

Jacksonville University’s starting enrollment falls just below the 15 to 20 students it had aimed for, said founding dean Nicholas Allard. The school told prospective students on its website that it would cap initial enrollment at 30.

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Allard, who previously served as dean of Brooklyn Law School and is a senior counsel at global law firm Dentons, said he is confident enrollment will grow steadily. The group that begins in January could include about 30 students, he said, noting that the school received 200 applications for the fall and offered seats to 20 of those applicants.

Annual tuition at the school is $36,000, which makes it less expensive than the six American Bar Association-accredited private law schools in Florida. The state has 10 ABA-accredited schools in all — a group Jacksonville University hopes to join in two years when it is eligible to apply for accreditation.

“We’re going to build this up in a very methodical, brick-by-brick fashion,” Allard said.

Days after Jacksonville University announced in February that it would open the law school, High Point University — a private, Christian university in North Carolina — said it too would start a new law school that could open as early as 2024. It has since named former Regent University School of Law dean Mark Martin as its founding dean.

Successfully launching a new law school has proved challenging lately, however. 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.

Florida Coastal School of Law once enrolled nearly 4,000 students, but that number had dwindled to 135 by the time it closed. Former Florida Coastal dean Scott DeVito is among the 10 inaugural faculty of the Jacksonville University College of Law.

Read more:

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