Feb '99 Issue
MSBA Home Page
Another Law School?
by Mark Gehan
|What are your bar leaders thinking? View our archives of President's Page columns.||
The University of St. Thomas is now considering the creation of a new law school in Minnesota. A law school would complement the large MBA program at St. Thomas and would be consistent with the evolution of the school from college to university. In the next several months, the MSBA will consider the St. Thomas proposal. I have asked Kent Gernander to act as chair of a committee that will report to the Board of Governors and House of Delegates.
Why is the MSBA engaging in this exercise? The MSBA is the voice of the practice of law in Minnesota. Lawyers, law professors, and law students are members of the organization. We are economically interested because the practice of law is how we make a living. We are professionally interested because, despite the increased competition in our world, there are still persons whose legal needs are unmet. It would be a mistake for the MSBA to remain mute at the sidelines while St. Thomas considers its options. If we have something to offer, positive or negative, we should do so because we are, in fact, interested.
The work of the committee will raise questions we all think about but seldom discuss, at least in public. For instance, there is a public perception that there are too many lawyers, and this may be one of the few opinions held by the public with which many or most lawyers agree. The new committee will not avoid this issue, but neither will it simply accept that commonly held belief as accurate. Furthermore, although a new law school with 200 places in its first-year class might in theory increase the lawyer population by 200 annually, it is also reasonable to assume that a number of those first-year students might be stolen from and not replaced by the other three law schools. Even in academia, there is a free market. Therefore, the committee must try to find the information from which predictions could be made. Is it possible to quantify the number of additional lawyers who would choose to practice poverty law rather than injury law? How many new lawyers would choose to practice outside metropolitan areas? Would a 25 percent increase in law school admissions result in a lower "quality" of those admitted?
If it is true that more lawyers will adversely affect our economic interests, we still must consider our professional obligations. If more lawyers would create a benefit to society as a whole, that would be an important, if not dispositive, factor.
Finally, it is inevitable that any conclusions reached or recommendations made by the committee will be controversial, inside and outside our profession. Because the alternative of doing nothing and saying nothing is unacceptable, we will just have to take the heat.
MARK W. GEHAN of St. Paul is president of the MSBA. A partner in the firm of Collins, Buckley, Sauntry & Haugh, he received his J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School and recently served as special master in the historic Minnesota tobacco litigation.