Do we need another ABA law school in Massachusetts?

In a recent post, we asked if there are too many law schools? Now we learn that the state of Massachusetts hopes to acquire Southern New England School of Law.

Southern New England has been in operation since 1981, accredited by the state, but not by the American Bar Association. University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth has been in discussion with Southern New England for the past five years about the possible acquisition. And the non-profit law school is being offered at no charge to the state.

There are still some hurdles for the University of Massachusetts to jump to make this a reality. But the big question is whether Massachusetts needs another law school.

Here are a few things to consider:

Massachusetts is one of only five states without a public law school. The others are Delaware, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. It is by far the largest of the states without a public law school with 6.5 million residents. The next largest is New Hampshire with 1.3 million residents.

And Southern New England is one hour south of Boston, and one hour north of Providence, Rhode Island — another state with no public law school.

There are currently seven ABA law schools in Massachusetts, with tuitions ranging from $28,000 at New England Law to $40,000 at Harvard. (New England is the primary opponent to the state takeover of Southern New England).

Without question, a public law school would be the least expensive school in the state — likely around $20,000. It might even have a small impact on keeping tuition down at the other ABA schools in the state.

Massachusetts already has a lot of law schools. But over the past 20 years, the ratio of law students at ABA-law schools to state population has dropped from 1.3 students for every 1,000 residents to 1.1 for every 1,000. That is still far higher than the national average, which has dropped from .53 law students for every 1,000 residents in 1990 to .50 today. But, the state’s schools have always had a high percent of students from out of state.

Given that an affordable legal education is needed now than at any point in its history, and the time is more ripe for a new ABA-approved Massachusetts law school than at any point since the last ABA school opened in 1974 (Western New England), it appears that the state is making the right move.

Of course, the school must still get ABA-approval.

By Jack Crittenden, editor-in-chief of The National Jurist