Belmont University announced today the opening of a College of Law, the first new law school in Middle Tennessee in nearly 100 years. Belmont’s College of Law represents the university’s seventh college and fourth doctoral program. The College will begin classes in fall 2011, and when at full capacity, it will enroll approximately 350 students.
Belmont President Dr. Bob Fisher said, “Announcing the launch of Belmont’s College of Law today is a perfect way to celebrate the one-year anniversary of hosting the 2008 Town Hall Presidential Debate. This university is focused on offering students a transformative education that enables their own civic engagement. Given the public role of many legal professionals, we believe a vital element of the Belmont Law education will be preparing our students for roles as community leaders and change agents.”
Belmont’s College of Law provides a natural extension of the university’s mission and vision, which emphasize challenging academics, a service-minded approach, real-world experience and community leadership. Belmont law graduates will be practice-ready attorneys, empowered by their education and co-curricular experiences to provide legal counsel in a variety of settings, with commitment to high standards of expertise and ethics. The College of Law will be housed on campus in a new building that will include a state-of-the-art Law Library.
W. Scott Sims, the 2008 president of the Nashville Bar Association and a member of the law firm Walker, Tipps & Malone PLC, said, “The Belmont University College of Law will be a wonderful addition to Nashville and to the entire region. As the legal landscape continues to evolve and our society faces new opportunities, it’s important to have bright, young minds who can engage new dilemmas of justice and the law. It’s easy to see from the fine graduates Belmont has produced as well as the incredible job the university did last year in hosting the presidential debate, that Belmont can tackle any challenge and succeed. I welcome the fresh perspective the Belmont College of Law and its students will undoubtedly bring to the legal community.”
A recent feasibility study indicated increasing need over the next decade for attorneys in Tennessee as well as in the region. Tennessee currently has fewer lawyers per capita (8.2 per 10,000) than nearly all of the states in which new American Bar Association (ABA)-approved law schools have opened in the past 10 years. In addition, there are hundreds of individuals interested in attending an ABA-approved law school in Tennessee who are currently unable to do so—in 2008, nearly 6,800 individuals applied for entrance to Tennessee’s three ABA-approved law schools, but only 1,773 were issued offers of admission. Other factors leading to Belmont’s decision to open a College of Law include the following:
• The U.S. Department of Labor projects that the employment of lawyers will increase 11 percent between 2006 and 2016. This is almost certain to outpace the growth of law school graduates, which has increased by only 2.5 percent over the past five years.
• Without new law schools, the number of lawyers per capita in Tennessee will decrease over the next 20 years, as the population of the southern United States is projected to increase much faster than the national average.
• Nationally in 2008-09, there were 83,371 law school applicants and only 49,414 available first year seats. Thus, 41 percent of law school applicants were unable to secure seats.
• A review of the roster of persons sitting for the Tennessee bar exam shows that many of these individuals are leaving the state to attend law school. In 2008, there were 797 first-time takers of the Tennessee bar exam. Of those, only 386 attended law school in Tennessee.
• There are no other new law schools scheduled to open in the southeastern United States between now and 2011.
Perhaps the best reason for a Belmont University College of Law, however, is the unique approach Belmont can offer. Provost Marcia McDonald noted, “As proven by this university being named a U.S. News top ‘School to Watch’ two years in a row, Belmont University continually embraces innovation that strengthens the quality of our education. Like all of our programs, the College of Law will link academically-challenging coursework with real-world experience and will provide an innovative curriculum that will put us at the forefront of legal education. The College of Law will increase our opportunities for campus engagement with legal, civic and justice issues, a focus emphasized by our hosting of the debate last year.”
The College will be integrated into Belmont’s main campus and offer specialties in areas that complement the university’s nationally-known undergraduate program offerings, including healthcare and entertainment business. In initiating the new graduate program, Belmont will work closely with experts in the field, both locally and nationally, to prepare lawyers for the needs and types of legal practice for the future.