Law school at UWT vital to region’s economic future

When the state Legislature’s 2014 budget was unveiled last week, it included $400,000 in seed money to develop a law school at the University of Washington Tacoma.

These funds will have a vital impact on the economic futures of Tacoma, Pierce County and the South Sound. We look forward to Gov. Jay Inslee signing the budget into law. Thanks must go to the hard work of the Pierce County delegation in both houses for pushing this agenda forward.

A law school at UWT is the most important economic boost to this region in years. It is equal in magnitude for Tacoma to the arrival of State Farm.

As CEO of the Economic Development Board of Tacoma-Pierce County, I work with civic leaders to not only preserve and strengthen the economy of our city, county and state, but also to ensure our future economic growth.

There is no better way to provide for the future than to put our energies into education for our citizens. A law school associated with UWT fills a huge gap in our state’s education system.

There are only three law schools in the state of Washington, two in Seattle and one in Spokane. The South Sound, with a population of more than one million people, is not adequately served by any of the state’s existing law schools.

For the last year, I have joined with public and private leaders in the county to bring a law school here. The seed money in this year’s budget provides the state’s seal of approval for development of the school, as well as a boost to our overall funding efforts. The cost of getting the school started will be $2.5 million, an achievable goal and one I’m sure we will hit.

UWT has been an economic engine for downtown Tacoma. It has built a reputation as a center of innovation and forward thinking, a school that prepares students to find work in cutting edge fields. UWT has drawn national attention for its innovative programs in clean-water technologies, computer technologies such as big data and assisting veterans.

Former Chancellor Debra Friedman, who passed away several weeks ago, nurtured many of these initiatives. A new law school was part of her vision as well, and it will serve as a lasting reminder of her great work at UWT.

In keeping with UWT’s history of innovation, the law school will be community-based and specifically designed to the needs of students Pierce County, Tacoma and South Sound. Class size will be 30 students, and the curriculum will be unapologetically geared to produce critically thinking lawyers who are ready to be productive and effective as soon as they pass the bar.

Strong emphasis will be on teaching law in areas where Pierce County has a national edge and therefore needs the support of the legal community, including environmental law, international trade law, water rights and intellectual property rights.

It will mainly be a night school. We have a hard-working community, and we understand that there are many qualified local residents and veterans who can’t take three years off to go to law school.

We will hire five full-time professors in Tacoma (to be supplemented by faculty from the Seattle campus), and classes will be held in existing UWT buildings.

Most importantly, students will be encouraged to pursue internships in the South Sound. Make no mistake about it: Our goal is to create lawyers who will practice locally, filling our important and underserved legal service needs.

Twenty years ago, the University of Puget Sound sold its law school to Seattle University, a decision that still hurts. But in those 20 years, we have seen a resurgent Tacoma and Pierce County with new businesses, new technologies and new initiatives.

The time has come to bring a law school back to the South Sound to strengthen our business environment, create jobs and secure an economically strong future.