Two bills were recently filed in the House of Representatives in Texas that would allow university systems to establish a law school in Cameron or Hidalgo counties, according to The Daily Texan.
The UT System vice chancellor for governmental relations, Barry McBee, said that the System is prioritizing establishing a consolidated university instead of establishing a law school.
“Our initial goal is the successful creation of the new university,” McBee said. “If legislation passes and other systems wish to establish a law school, we would not stand in the way of that and would look forward to partnering with them in some fashion.”
The bills would combine the University of Texas at Brownsville, the University of Texas-Pan American and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen into one institution. The new combined institution would have access to the Permanent University Fund, which is a $1.3 billion state endowment that allocates money to institutions in the Texas A&M and UT systems. The Regional Academic Health Center would turn into a medical school.
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board recommended against starting a new law school in a report from 2010. They cited data that said the state does not face a shortage of lawyers.
State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Harlingen filed a bill that would permit the UT System Board of Regents the ability to create a law school. He also noted that the bill could be amended to permit other schools to establish a law school in the Valley.
The state would spend $80 million during a five-year period on construction, hiring faculty, and operations for the proposed law school.
“I’m not naive to the cost restraints of establishing a new school,” Lucio said. “I’m not naive to the fact that we’re going to probably spend a substantial amount of money establishing this umbrella university in South Texas, but we can’t stop having the conversation.”
The State Bar of Texas conducted a study of attorney population density for 2011-2012. The study said that Cameron County has one lawyer for every 768 residents and Hidalgo County has one attorney for every 832 residents. In comparison, Travis County has one lawyer for every 115 residents, Bexar County has one lawyer for every 320 residents and Harris County has one lawyer for every 193 residents.
A separate bill was filed by State Rep. Armando “Mando” Martinez, D-Weslaco. The bill would create a law school in the Valley.
“If we’re pushing a medical school and understand that we don’t have a medical school close by, why not have a law school?” Martinez said. “We should be afforded the same opportunity as the rest of the state.”