Thursday, June 10, 2010

Raising the Bar: DC's Public Law School

At the mention of law school in the District of Columbia, those that typically come to mind are Georgetown, George Washington, American, Howard, and Catholic.  Those who consider a bit of a broader area will also think of George Mason and the University of Maryland, two high-ranked public law schools that provide an affordable alternative to residents of our neighboring states. 

Likely to be overlooked, and for good reason, is the University of the District of Columbia's David A. Clark School of Law.

In a prior life, it was the Antioch School of Law, which closed in 1985, after the American Bar Association, which accredits law schools nationwide, revoked its accreditation because students had low academic credentials and many failed the bar exam. It reopened as the D.C. School of Law in 1988 and merged with UDC in 1996.  Then it began a fight to gain accreditation, which continued for nearly a decade as only 1 in 4 of its students passed the bar on the first try.  When I was in law school (at GW) between 1997 and 2000, UDC was on the brink.  It continued to have only provisional accreditation until 2005, when it began to emerge from legal limbo between life and death.

Today, the UDC law school is on more solid footing, but the school has not reached its full potential.  This year, US News and World Report ranked UDC's David Clarke School of Law tenth in America - out of 188 ABA accredited law schools - for clinical legal education.  But it remains the only ABA-approved law school in the United States without its own, stand-alone building.  The school is currently housed on a single floor of a building on UDC's Van Ness campus.  Its student body of 300 future lawyers exist in this small area with cramped classrooms, which boasts only a new coat of fresh yellow paint.

"Having such limited space inhibits enrollment, which in turn hampers our school's ability to recruit and develop a student body that reflects its mission statement of serving those traditionally underrepresented in law school enrollment," law student commented.  "The current concrete building in which our one-floor law school sits looks as if it were built in Soviet Russia.  Sometimes it feels that way as well."

There are rumors that UDC's administration is exploring a location for a stand-alone law school.  Will it end up in an old office building, quickly retrofitted for student use, as it chose for UDC's community college on North Capitol?  Or will UDC and the city select a more appropriate and inspiring location?

With all of the closed school buildings in the downtown area and across the city, why is UDC's law school operating on a single floor in Van Ness?

1 comment:

Alex said...

UDC-DCSL 2L here. Just want to point out that the lawschool actually occupies a floor of two buildings. Classrooms and clinics are in building 38, 2nd floor, and Administration and reception/special event space is on the 2nd floor of 39. Also, the law library and library admin takes up the entire B level of building 38. So to say it occupies a single floor of a single building isn't quite right.

But you're right that it's the only ABA accredited lawschool that doesn't have it's own stand-alone, dedicated building. Many of us students have been following the university system's real estate grab closely, not only in hopes that we might get our own building but also because as space is freed up on the Van Ness Campus by moving CCDC students to NoMa, Excel Institute, the Backus Campus, and now the Harris Building, some of us are hoping we might be able to expand on the Van Ness campus and get things like a law student lounge, more space for clinics, more classroom space that would accommodate a larger student body, et cetera.