Budget Problems & Costs Deter Public Law School in Rhode Island

The Providence Business News reports on the cost factor in Rhode Island being one of the few states without a public law school.  The state’s only law school is Roger Williams University School of Law: a Bristol-based law school with a growing reputation as an up and coming second-tier law school.

As the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth moved to take over the Southern New England School of Law last month and create the Bay State’s first public law school, Rhode Island higher education officials said they’re too busy dousing budgetary brush fires to give any thought to a law school of their own.

Steven J. Maurano, spokesman for the R.I. Office of Higher Education, noted recently that the budgets of his agency and the state’s public colleges have been slashed by about $34 million since 2007.

“The focus for us has been recovering from the cuts we have endured already,” Maurano said. “[Creating a public law school] has never been a topic of discussion. We have a lot of other priorities.”

With the UMass Dartmouth takeover of the nonprofit Southern New England School of Law, however, there are now only five states – Alaska, Delaware, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island – without a public law school, and that list could soon get even smaller.

Officials at the University of New Hampshire have talked for more than a year about acquiring the Franklin Pierce Law Center, the state’s only law school. A deal hasn’t been finalized.

Why even contemplate creating a public law school? Some say state-operated schools can offer a lower-tuition option for would-be law students – particularly in-state students – and may even be a strong revenue generator. But the downside: Starting a law school can cost tens of millions of dollars to build a library, a competent faculty and to gain accreditation, some say.

Aside from fiscal considerations in Rhode Island, many say there is no overwhelming need for another law school right now.

Roger Williams University School of Law, the state’s only law school, “serves the needs of Rhode Island very well,” said Providence attorney Mark S. Mandell, a former Rhode Island Bar Association president who has been a significant financial contributor to the school.

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