Florida A&M University’s College of Law Will Enroll First Class in August
Dean says law school may find its niche in sports, entertainment law, and commitment to public serviceBy Gabrielle FinleyORLANDO, Fla.
Florida A&M University’s College of Law in August is premiering its first incoming class since 1968, when the institution was closed down by the state.
FAMU College of Law was closed one year after Florida State University’s College of Law opened in 1967 (see Black Issues, Dec. 7, 2000). Percy R. Luney Jr., dean of FAMU College of Law, sees the closing of the law school in 1968 as an act of racial discrimination because FSU’s law school was a majority White school. “The books were taken from FAMU College and given to Florida State’s law school on the last day of final examinations,” Luney says.
But while questions surrounding the law school’s closing remain after more than 30 years, FAMU is starting fresh with its new law school located in downtown Orlando.
Funding, faculty and achieving accreditation all will influence the future of the law school and its reputation.
Accreditation, which is provided by the American Bar Association (ABA), is a stamp of approval and certification to law programs across the United States. The law school can apply for accreditation at the end of its second year, but in the meantime, Luney doesn’t see the lack of accreditation as a big problem for the law school, especially in its first year.
“We can apply for accreditation at the end of our second year and we can receive it our third year. I don’t see us having a problem receiving accreditation,” Luney says.
Lack of accreditation has affected the law school’s recruitment tactics.
“Most of our students are from Florida. We did not recruit out-of-state students heavily in our first year because of lack of accreditation and the tuition would be higher for them,” says Ruth Witherspoon, associate dean of administration and student services.
The law school has admitted 85 students from 258 applicants, with most of the students coming from Florida and a few coming from other states such as North Carolina, Georgia and New York. Fifty-seven students have expressed interest in enrolling.
Tuition for out-of-state students attending FAMU’s law school is considerably lower compared to tuition and fees of other law schools throughout Florida.
Luney says that many times students are so in debt from the high cost of attending law school that taking a position at the district attorney’s office, for example, is not financially feasible.
“The job market for the district attorney’s office and public organizations has fallen from 12 percent to 3 percent since the early ’70s. We want to provide a legal education at a lower, affordable cost for students, which makes them available for public offices,” Luney says.
FAMU College of Law’s in-state tuition of $4,923 is the second lowest among Florida law schools. The law school ranks third in the cost of out-of-state tuition at $17,140. According to the Law School Admissions Council’s Web site, the University of Florida ranks first, with the lowest in-state tuition at $4,670 and first in out-of-state tuition at $15,820. Gaining Expertise
To prepare students to take positions in state and other public offices, FAMU’s law school will require a mandatory clinical program for all third-year law students. Luney views this as one of the law school’s strengths.
“There are very few colleges mandating a clinical program. In doing this, we will be providing $5 million to $8 million in free legal services for Orlando,” Luney says.
Among the seven faculty members who already have been hired, some of the professors have extensive training in sports and entertainment law, as well as criminal and tax law. When asked if sports and entertainment law could become the law school’s specialty or niche, Luney says location affects law schools’ specialties.
“You look at niches where you are,” Luney says. “We have Disney World; we have all kinds of hospitality, tourism and entertainment fields. Orlando’s becoming a major entertainment field.” But Luney still says it’s too early to tell what will make the law school stand out among other state and national law colleges.
“The thing I can say will stand out is our commitment to public service and our specialization in sports and entertainment law.”
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