The dean of the University of Idaho law school said that residents of the state of Idaho pay a ‘hidden tax’ because 75 percent of the new lawyers do not graduate from the only public law school in the state, according to The Spokesman-Review. The dean noted that the students charge more because they have higher debt amounts.
“Holding down the number of seats in public legal education does not hold down the number of lawyers,” said Donald Burnett, dean of the University of Idaho College of Law. “It only means that they come in with a higher debt … and then they have to charge their clients more, and that’s a hidden tax on Idaho.”
The comments were made at the same time that the school’s president, Duane Nellis, presented the budget for the school to the Legislature’s joint budget committee. One of the requests is to add a second year of law school in Boise, where the University of Idaho offers just third-year classes. This was not recommended for funding by Governor Butch Otter.
According to Nellis, the Boise third-year program is ‘highly successful’ and it “better prepares students for their professional interests.” Nellis said that University of Idaho would like to offer all three years of law school in Boise and at the main campus in Moscow eventually.
“There’s a lot of interest here in the Treasure Valley in having a public law school that provides support to businesses here in our state, something that’s financially viable for students who may be place-bound here in the Treasure Valley but also may be attractive to students who would like to live in a metropolitan area like Boise,” Nellis said to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.
In Boise, two, 30-member classes have finished their third year of law school. “The focus here has been on business law, corporate law, intellectual property, with links to government law,” Nellis said. “The opportunity for externships, the opportunity for placements has been tremendous.”
The proposal for a second-year program in Boise would cost $400,000, but it would add 40 second-year students, according to Nellis. “We believe there’s capacity now … to house those students,” Nellis said. “There’s demand for those students here in the Treasure Valley. We have a shortage – you may not necessarily agree with this – but we actually import lawyers from other states because we don’t have enough, we’re not supplying enough for the state of Idaho. And they contribute tremendously to our business success.”
Representative Shirley Ringo, a Democrat from Moscow, asked the law school’s dean about reports of lawyers struggling to find jobs.
Burnett issued the following response: “It’s true that applications to law schools are down this year, they have been the last two years,” Burnett replied. But he said that’s because private law school graduates now average more than $125,000 in debt when they graduate, which on top of their undergrad student loan debt, doesn’t fit well with the pay at entry-level lawyer jobs, particularly in Idaho.
“That’s why public legal education continues to be very important,” he said. “Our students come out with five-figure debts not six-figure debts, and they can manage them and they can stay in Idaho. … They can represent communities, they can be public defenders, they can be prosecutors.”