The vision for a law program in Boise started in 2005 at the University of Idaho with a strategic planning committee. In 2010, that goal came to fruition as the UI College of Law set up a third year program in Boise.
“Boise is Idaho’s major center of population, commerce and government, a plurality of Idaho law firms and practitioners are located in Boise. Many of the other careers that the JD degree holders follow such as business, work in non-profits and social services have a lot of potential employment opportunities in the Treasure Valley area,” said Don Burnett, dean of the UI College of Law. “The subject fits in Boise as far as business law, entrepreneurism, intellectual property — those are real advantages.”
Burnett is an outspoken proponent of expanding the UI law program in Boise. With a third year law program established in 2010, Burnett proposed adding a second year law curriculum earlier in hopes of moving toward a full three-year law program in Boise.
Last fall, the Idaho State Board of Education approved the second-year program by a 5-4 vote after rejecting a proposal for a complete law program in Boise in 2008.
The decision to fund the newly approved second-year program fell to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s office, which did not include funding for a second year program in the state budget released earlier this year.
In January, Burnett and UI President M. Duane Nellis appeared before the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee in Boise to talk about adding funding for the second-year program in Boise.
Rep. Shirley Ringo of Moscow, a JFAC committee member, said there was not a negative reaction from the board, just a matter of priority. She said there is not a lot of deviation from the governor’s budget on high price tags like the law school is asking for with a second-year program.
“Don Burnett presented a very good case … we do see the merit of it — it being so close to the seat of government,” Ringo said. “Location is a major thing — and then the subject matter fits for business law, entrepreneurism, in the future intellectual property, those are real advantages in Boise. Then finally, being able to finance your legal education partly through earnings as opposed to living on borrowed money which many students do in Moscow.”
When the legislature adjourned April 4, the JFAC committee did not approve funding for a second-year law program.
Sen. Dan Schmidt of Moscow, along with Ringo and King, were all in support adding a second-year law program in Boise, however budgetary priorities prevented the second-year from being funded.
“The division of financial management, which is the governor’s financial recommending and supervising agency, made recommendations of a maintenance budget. There were just very, very few new recommendations that they supported and that’s why they did not support the (law school),” Schmidt said.
Burnett said business and personal property tax was a big constraint on the budget and that if the budget had been more flexible the JFAC committee might have taken a look at the second-year law program.
“That was very much on the minds of JFAC members, right down to the very end of the session. I think it was very much on the governor’s mind also because he put some things in the proposed executive budget and did not put others in,” Burnett said.
SBOE member Richard Westerberg raised concern about funding the second-year program back in October 2012 when the board had a vote on whether or not to approve the curriculum for a second-year law program in Boise.
“For me it wasn’t just a discussion about whether there ought to be a second year law school program in Boise, for me it was a funding priority issue, and I was unwilling to commit $400,000 on an ongoing basis to the project when I thought there were more critical needs for the state and even for the UI,” Westerberg said. “Specifically the funding of more medical seats … we’re critically short of doctors in the state of Idaho — I don’t believe we are critically short of lawyers in the state of Idaho. For me it was strictly a funding perspective issue, I could not support the request for supplemental funding for the second year in Boise.”
Even though Westerberg did not vote to approve the second-year curriculum he is still in support of adding a second-year in the future.
“I have absolutely nothing against the second-year in Boise, in fact I think it makes sense,” he said. “It will be a question of whether or not there are more critical needs for the funding.”
Burnett said that not getting the funding was disappointing but it was understandable because this was the first year of the proposal.
“I think folks realistically understood that it sometimes takes more bite of the apple so to speak in order to get something approved,” Burnett said.
However, there is strong support for a larger law school program in Boise.
“I was on the SBA counsel, the majority of questions we had from [students] was ‘Is the second year program available yet?’ ‘Will it be available for our next year?’ and so that alone tells me that there’s a great interest,” said Shayne Nope, co-vice president of the UI Student Bar Association and future third year Boise student. “The Boise market is a great market for our students and it would be a shame if the UI did not help get its footprint there before other schools do.”
Nope said many students support the expansion of the Boise program because it gives students a chance to network and get their names out there but also work in a variety of business oriented clinics to get real experience.
Future third-year Boise student Tori Osler said because the majority of Idaho attorneys are in Boise, the program provides students an opportunity to meet with attorneys on a regular basis.
Osler said the third-year Boise program was a factor in her choice to attend UI and if a full law program were to be set up in Boise, it would open opportunities to work with federal and state courts.
There is some concern about the effect a larger law program in Boise would have on the resources at the Moscow campus. Nope said he has thought about the possibility of the Moscow campus losing resources to a larger Boise campus, but said it would not take away from the specialization in Moscow.
“That concern certainly exists, but the subjects of natural resources, environmental law, dispute resolution, Native American law — these are all very topical areas in Idaho and they are going to hold a number of students,” Burnett said. “Recognize this is the 21st century, people can operate in more than one location and let’s do it where it’s best for the students. Both from their financial standpoint and personal standpoint and as well where their curricular emphasis lies.”
As for the future of the law program in Boise, Burnett said he expects there will be another proposal submitted to the SBOE next year that will be more refined and include a sharper focus on the business emphasis in Boise and what it can offer students.
Ryan Tarinelli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org