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Forward Motion: Boise Summons Two New Law Schools

University of Idaho and Concordia University both set to open schools in Boise

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As the state's legislative and legal capital, Boise is the natural Mecca for law students seeking internship, externship and mentorship prospects. Both U of I and Concordia have been feverishly reaching out to members of Boise's legal community to form future partnerships.

"There are so many law firms and legislators and other opportunities--government sections like prosecuting attorney's offices, public defender's offices," said Assistant City Attorney Jodi Nafzger, a member of Concordia's Dean's Advisory Council. "This law school is going to be able to provide those agencies with externs, interns, mentees. So I think that's one of the big boons to the lawyer community in Boise."

Karen Gowland, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary at Boise Inc., is a U of I School of Law grad who did her summer associate internship at Boise Cascade and has been with the company ever since. Gowland hopes these new law programs will increase the flow of qualified student intern candidates.

"I do think that it makes sense, from an employer's standpoint, that there will be more interns, externs, etc," said Gowland. "We have been fortunate to have a number of U of I externs and interns over the years, and we've always been really pleased with the quality and what they bring to our environment."

Merlyn Clark, a partner at Hawley Troxell, Ennis and Hawley LLP and former U of I College of Law grad, agreed with Gowland.

"I think it's beneficial to the community, to the students to have a second branch here in Boise ... it provides the students an opportunity to practice with government agencies and others like court clerks, the Attorney General's Office, the Prosecutor's Office."

In addition to infusing the local legal community with more free student labor, both law schools also plan to operate clinics that will offer legal help to low-income residents. The University of Idaho is currently running two clinics at its third-year program--the Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic and the Small Business Legal Clinic--and plans to offer more in the future.

"Our motto is we're free but slow," said U of I's Associate Dean for Boise Programs Lee Dillion, laughing. "We're a teaching clinic. We don't hold ourselves out as what we'd call a service clinic."

Concordia's legal clinic is still in its planning phases, but Dean Silak noted that it will be supervised by a faculty member and accessible through a public entrance.

"Right now, we're thinking of this as a clinic for persons who really cannot afford legal services for a variety of issues ... We've already talked to a couple different agencies who provide services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as to the Idaho Legal Aid society ... We're forging some very good alliances within the community so that our students can both be of service and have hands-on learning opportunities," said Silak.

Idaho Legal Aid--a nonprofit that employs around 20 attorneys to handle low-income cases across the state--recently made headlines for being the only Legal Aid program in the country that doesn't receive state funding. It will now begin shuttering its offices on select days to save money. According to Christina King, who works closely with Legal Aid as a court advocate manager at the Women's and Children's Alliance, student legal help could be an incredible asset to Idaho's overworked and underfunded nonprofit legal system.

"We just don't have the number of attorneys that we need to take on the cases that we have, and I think part of it has to do with the fact that our clients are victims of domestic violence, and some of those cases can be very messy or sticky or time-consuming," said King. "So it's just a matter of convincing someone to take on a case where they may have a lot more hours than they initially anticipated. Having a law school come in, this would be a way for them to get their feet wet, to really experience some of the things that are out there and maybe provide volunteer services in the future, if it's something that they like."

With a demonstrated need for student legal help in Boise's nonprofit and professional legal communities--and an apparent demand for law education among area students--it's a wonder why other state universities haven't developed law programs in the Treasure Valley before now. This, Dillion explained, all comes down to the Idaho State Board of Education.

"They don't want public dollars to be poorly spent or to be spent inefficiently ... They don't want University of Idaho, Boise State and Idaho State all trying to offer the exact same program in the exact same location," said Dillion.

"The College of Law is the only college of law in the state of Idaho that's funded by public dollars, and so we have a statewide mission. Boise State and ISU are effectively told, 'As long as the University of Idaho is fulfilling its statewide mission, both in terms of education and outreach, we don't want you duplicating that program.' And it makes a lot of sense ... [Boise State gets] the advantage of having a law school located here in the valley, working with them, working with their programs, but we know how to run a law school and we'll continue to do it," said Dillion.

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