Thursday, June 10, 2010
Raising the Bar: DC's Public Law School
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?