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Eye On Boise

Holding down seats for public legal education a ‘hidden tax on Idaho’

The first questions from JFAC members for UI President Duane Nellis this morning were about the law school program in Boise, which has had two 30-student classes of third-year law students go through. “The focus here has been on business law, corporate law, intellectual property, with links to government law,” Nellis said. “The opportunity for externships, the opportunity for placements has been tremendous.”

He said the proposal to add a second-year program in Boise would add 40 second-year students each year, plus expand the third-year program to 40 students. “We believe there’s capacity now at the Water Center to house those students,” Nellis said. “There’s demand for those students here in the Treasure Valley. We have a shortage – you may not necessarily agree with this – but we actually import lawyers from other states because we don’t have enough, we’re not supplying enough for the state of Idaho. And they contribute tremendously to our business success.”

Nellis added, “We’d like ... to eventually have all three years here. … There’s a lot of interest here in the Treasure Valley in having a public law school that provides support to businesses here in our state, something that's financially viable for students who may be place-bound here in the Treasure Valley but also may be attractive to students who would like to live in a metropolitan area like Boise.”

Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, asked the UI’s law school dean, Don Burnett, about national reports that new lawyers are having trouble finding jobs. “It’s true that applications to law schools are down this year, they have been the last two years,” Burnett replied. But he said that’s because private law school graduates now average more than $125,000 in debt when they graduate, which on top of their undergrad student loan debt, doesn’t fit well with the pay at entry-level lawyer jobs, particularly in Idaho. “That’s why public legal education continues to be very important,” he said. “Our students come out with five-figure debts not six-figure debts, and they can manage them and they can stay in Idaho. … They can represent communities, they can be public defenders, they can be prosecutors.”

Idaho ranks 49thin the nation for its number of lawyers per capita, Burnett said. “Roughly 26 percent of new lawyers in Idaho are UI graduates; about three-quarters come in from outside Idaho.” He declared, “Holding down the number of seats in public legal education does not hold down the number of lawyers. It only means that they come in with a higher debt … and then they have to charge their clients more, and that’s a hidden tax on Idaho.” You can read my full story here at

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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