With three new U.S. law schools, legal academia makes a rebound

REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
  • Wilmington University is the latest to say it's starting a new law school
  • The Delaware campus joins Jacksonville University and High Point University in pursuing a law school

(Reuters) - Wilmington University in Delaware on Thursday said it will launch a new law school next year, marking the third new U.S. law school in the pipeline so far this year.

The new schools follow a nearly decade-long contraction in legal academia. Until this fall, no new law school had opened since 2014, and at least seven closed during that period due to financial shortfalls, low enrollment, accreditation problems or ownership issues.

Officials from the universities launching new law schools say they see a need for local and more affordable options for aspiring attorneys.

Wilmington plans to enroll its first law school class in the fall, making it the second law school in Delaware. It aims to initially enroll up to 50 full-time students and as many as 15 part-time students, eventually maxing out with 500 students in total.

Full-time tuition next year will be $24,000, which is less than half the $57,376 first-year tuition at Widener University Delaware Law School. Both universities are private.

“Somebody has to do something about law school debt,” said Phillip Closius, founding dean of the Wilmington University School of Law, during a Thursday press conference.

The new school will have a mandated curriculum during the first two years, a departure from the traditional model of only requiring specific courses during the first year, Closius said. Each of those classes will include closed-book, multiple choice and essay exams that mimic the format of the bar exam, he added.

The school will seek American Bar Association accreditation, which would enable graduates to sit for the bar exam.

Jacksonville University in February announced it would open a new law school, following the closure of the nearby Florida Coastal School of Law in 2021. The Jacksonville University College of Law launched in August with 14 students and plans to expand.

High Point University—a private, Christian university in North Carolina—also said earlier this year that it will start a new law school, with plans to open as early as 2024.

All three fledgling law schools have tapped experienced law deans. Closius is a former dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law, while Jacksonville law dean Nicholas Allard is the former dean of Brooklyn Law School. High Point University has named former Regent University law dean Mark Martin as its founding dean.

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