University of Idaho administrators found themselves in a tough position Wednesday. They were lobbying for an additional chunk of state dollars – to graduate more lawyers.
The U of I is seeking $400,000 to expand its Boise law school. The money would expand the satellite campus, now serving about 30 third-year law students, to serve 40 second-year students and 40 third-year students.
Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee members couldn’t resist a few lawyer jokes. “I think by statute we can limit the number of lawyers in Idaho,” said Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, a physician.
But university officials essentially argued a similar point: They said the state budget limits the number of would-be lawyers who can attend the U of I. “We actually import lawyers from other states, because we’re not supplying enough,” U of I President Duane Nellis told JFAC members.
Only 26 percent of Idaho’s new lawyers graduate from the U of I, law school Dean Don Burnett told JFAC. That means the rest come from out-of-state institutions — and if they return to Idaho, after paying three years of out-of-state tuition, they may go to work with student loan debts exceeding $100,000. If Idahoans can take law school classes in Boise, perhaps while a spouse works in the Valley, a student can graduate with a smaller loan debt.
And that, Burnett argued, makes law school funding an economic development issue. He called student loan debt a “hidden tax” on anyone who seeks legal counsel — including small businesses.
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The Boise law school would specialize in business and entrepreneurship, intellectual property and government law. The Moscow-based law school, with enrollment exceeding 300, specializes in areas such as natural resource law.
Boise is a competitive legal market. The Portland, Ore-based Concordia University launched a law school last fall in Downtown Boise, a few blocks from the Statehouse and the U of I’s satellite law school.
Gov. Butch Otter did not include the law school line item in his budget request. However, Nellis said the Otter budget includes several items that are key to the U of I — including more than $1 million in new money for agricultural research, and some $1.3 million for Enrollment Workload Adjustment, designed to cover increased student headcount.