It could happen — and it should happen.
Tacoma lost its law school in 1999 after the University of Puget Sound sold it to Seattle University. That left a big gap in the academic offerings in the South Sound. Aspiring attorneys now have to travel — or move — to Seattle or Portland for a law degree; nothing else is available between the two cities.
Now a bipartisan group of state senators led by Steve O’Ban, R-Tacoma, is trying to plow some seed money into efforts to cultivate a new law school at the University of Washington Tacoma. As part of the Senate budget, they’re including $400,000 to help jump-start donations to a UWT program.
As envisioned by a steering committee of local citizens and the late UWT chancellor, Debra Friedman, the program would cost about $2.25 million in its first three years. Starting out with evening classes for about 30 students taught by five faculty members, it would be housed in existing UWT classrooms and would have instant accreditation as an extension of the UW Law School.
That’s no small consideration; creating a law school from scratch and winning accreditation wouldn’t be impossible, but it would be a tough slog.
A new law school isn’t just something that would be nice for the South Sound. It’s badly needed. Competition for entry into the UW’s law school is fierce, and annual tuition at SU costs $11,500 more than at UW for in-state students.
The legal profession — like many others — is starting to feel the effects of the baby boomer retirement wave. About 25 percent of the state’s practicing attorneys say they plan to retire within the next few years, according to a Washington State Bar Association survey, and almost 75 percent of the bar’s membership is at least 50 years old.
There’s obviously a demand for a South Sound law school. In 1999, the year that Seattle University moved the campus from Tacoma, it had 850 law students. A new UWT program would be a modest reboot that almost certainly would be deluged with applicants.
When aspiring attorneys have to go somewhere else for their degrees, often they don’t come back. That makes it hard for local law firms and prosecutors to recruit, but it also leaves a hole in the community’s social and civic fabric. A UWT law school would help address that gap.