Law school would create opportunity for South Sound

April 6, 2014 

Congratulations, Tacoma. With the vision of a few, it looks like a law school might be on the horizon for the city.

Valarie Zeeck and volunteers who worked with her deserve a huge thank you for getting the ball rolling. State Sen. Steve O’Ban then helped bring this vision into sharper focus by obtaining $450,000 in state seed money to move the project to the next level. I don’t know O’Ban personally, but I believe he deserves our gratitude for making a law school in Tacoma possible again.

Both O’Ban and I are graduates of the University of Puget Sound Law School. Both of us understand how important that institution was for the entire South Sound and how a University of Washington Tacoma Law School can again fill that important role.

I am fortunate to have been raised in the Tacoma legal community by some of its best lawyers and to have spent my 20-year career practicing in Tacoma. I can testify that the legal community sorely misses a steady supply of new legal talent.

New attorneys do the research that completes deals that create jobs. They do the representation that protects those innocently accused. They do the prosecution that keeps the community safe.

After UPS sold its law school to Seattle University, both of Western Washington’s law schools ended up located in Seattle. Once students go to school in Seattle, they often settle there. It can be difficult to get new attorneys to think about driving to Pierce County for up to an hour each way in heavy traffic. On top of that, the market usually means that a job in Tacoma does not pay as much as a job in Seattle.

A law school in Tacoma will help the entire South Sound legal community. In Olympia, the Attorney General’s office, the Legislature and state agencies have a constant need for legal talent. Many in government want a law degree. The UW campus in Tacoma with night classes allows South Sound residents a convenient location they can attend after work.

Not everything in the Puget Sound region can be located in Seattle. This contributes to massive traffic on the roadways as everyone tries to get to jobs and schools in one location. More educational opportunities in the South Sound mean more future jobs in the South Sound. More jobs means more moms and dads getting home to their kids without spending two hours every day on a gridlocked freeway.

The $450,000 procured by O’Ban is just a start. But it gives those of us in the South Sound legal community hope that the law school vision will become a reality. With state officials saying they believe in this vision, South Sound attorneys, businesses and community boosters can unite as a single team to make this vision a reality.

We can also look forward to working with the UW School of Law to accomplish this vision. The school recently received the largest gift in its history – more than $56 million. The money will support student scholarships, faculty excellence and investment in innovative programs that will enhance students’ education and professional opportunities. This gift provides an outstanding base for the school to expand its reach into the South Sound to enlarge the number of students it can educate.

So, Tacoma, this really is the start of something big. O’Ban, Zeeck and others who had the foresight to believe again in a Tacoma law school should be congratulated for this incredible effort.

James B. Meade is a shareholder in Forsberg & Umlauf and heads the firm’s Tacoma office. He is a 1993 graduate of the UPS School of Law.

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