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Charlotte and Greensboro could get a law school

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Charlotte and Greensboro could get law school in decade

UNCC, Queens pondering idea

DIANE SUCHETKA

Staff Writer

Within a decade, Charlotte could have its first law school.

Two universities in Charlotte -- UNC Charlotte and the private Queens University of Charlotte -- are looking into opening law schools in the city.

In addition, Elon University near Greensboro is exploring the idea of training lawyers there. Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, about 50 miles west of Charlotte, has also been considering a school.

There are five law schools in North Carolina, but none in Charlotte.

UNC Charlotte Chancellor Jim Woodward told the school's trustees Friday that UNCC will begin to explore the idea of building a school there.

"I think there will be a law school here within 10 years," Woodward said.

Queens has been formally studying the concept for about six months, said Pamela Lewis, that university's president.

"This is a high priority project for us, and we have been investing quite a bit of time and energy in exploring the possibility," she said.

Elon University assembled its law school feasibility study task force last fall, according to a spokesman there. It would take years to open a school, in part because of the huge start-up expense -- tens of millions of dollars, some experts say.

"The state's financial situation is such that it is not reasonable to ask North Carolina to fund a law school here now," Woodward said, acknowledging that some funding would be private. Still, he was confident that UNCC would be training lawyers by 2013.

Lewis was less emphatic:

"We're not pitching a law school; we're looking at the viability and the feasibility."

There are several reasons to open another law school in the state, especially in Charlotte.

"Unquestionably, we're among the largest cities in the country without a law school," Lewis said.

Another reason is demand.

"Applications to law school were dramatically up last year and are up dramatically again for next year -- over 20 percent both years," said Carl Monk, executive director of the Association of American Law Schools.

But those increases are cyclical, he said, because more people return to school during downturns in the economy.

Some would also like to see a law school in Charlotte for those who would like to attend part-time while working.

North Carolina's law schools are at UNC Chapel Hill and Campbell, Duke, N.C. Central and Wake Forest universities. Three of those are in the Triangle -- the Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh area -- about a 2 1/2-hour drive from Charlotte. The others are at least 90 minutes away. The only S.C. law school is at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.

"I think the community would benefit greatly from having a law school," said Frank Emory, Mecklenburg County Bar president.

That group represents the 3,500 lawyers in Mecklenburg County, a number that is growing by 8 to 10 percent a year, Emory said.

A law school here would help businesses and firms recruit and give consumers more choices, he said.

According to the American Bar Association, North Carolina had 16,105 active attorneys as of December 2001. South Carolina had 7,615.

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I think any thing that improves education options is a good thing.

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