The fact-finding continues after a task force established to investigate the possible move of the South Dakota School of Law met Sept. 6 in Sioux Falls.
The 13-member task force had its second of three meetings at the Sioux Falls School for the Deaf, where they heard testimony from USD students and faculty and community members.
The law school is considering the move due to a drop in applicants and low bar passage rates.
Established by USD President James Abbott in May, the task force will present him with a recommendation accompanied by a report once its members conclude their research. Abbott will then decide if he wants to make a recommendation to the South Dakota Board of Regents, who can make a request to the governor to put the necessary funds in the budget proposal to be voted on by the legislature.
“I was for a task force to look at a possible change because we will probably need to go back to the legislature this coming year for money,” said Thomas Geu, dean of the law school. “As a donor and a tax payer, before we sink a few million dollars, I’d like somebody to do some due diligence because this is a 25-year decision.”
The task force will meet again on Oct. 6.
While moving the law school to Sioux Falls would require the construction of a new building, another option being considered is the renovation of the law school’s current building, which would be
Geu estimated during the Sept. 6 meeting that it would cost $10.4 to $12.2 million to renovate the current law school, whereas building a new one in Sioux Falls could cost $20 to
Along with a move or renovation, the task force may also propose institutional changes to the law school.
“Regardless of location, we need more resources to devote to student services,” said third-year law student Morgan Nelson, president of the Student Bar Association and a member of the task force. “We currently don’t have a dean of student services. Our academic dean is currently in that role, and those two hats she’s wearing are too much for one person.”
Evaluating the move
Keeping the school in Vermillion would allow law students to continue to pursue other degrees while in law school. Since 1996, 9.9 percent of all graduates of the law school graduated with a dual degree, according to a PowerPoint presented to the task force by faculty.
Representative Ray Ring, D-S.D, and former USD faculty member, testified at the Sept. 6 meeting.
“The cost of moving, direct, indirect or otherwise, is a high price to pay for an experiment,” he said during his testimony.
Three students testified at the meeting. Two said they didn’t have an opinion about the school’s location, but Rachelle Norberg, a third-year law student, said she’s pro-Vermillion.
“While Sioux Falls provides a lot of opportunities for law students and potential law students to work for a firm, or work for a trust company, or a bank or a nonprofit, there are other areas in the state that desperately need interns,” she said. “I wouldn’t have gone to law school had it been in Sioux Falls.”
One advantage to moving that was discussed during the meeting is that prospective students may be more attracted to a larger town. Sioux Falls offers more opportunities for internships and externships, which can be important in starting a law career, Geu said.
Many law students already live in Sioux Falls, where some have spouses and children, and commute to Vermillion, Geu said. Some also have to commute to their externships in
Evaluating the bar
USD is unlike most law schools because it’s the only law school in the state. One of its stated missions is to populate the legal infrastructure of South Dakota.
With fewer applicants and a lower bar passage rate, the state is starved for lawyers, especially in rural practices, Geu said.
Dropping bar passage rates have become a national phenomenon. One possible reason is a lack of applicants – a smaller applicant pool means that law schools must lower their
Passing the bar is required to practice law in the state of South Dakota, so students who fail are often left with significant debt.
Nelson said she believes students are choosing law school less and less because they’re uncertain about employment after graduation.
“There are enrollment issues nationwide,” Nelson said. “Some say that that’s because of the debt you have to incur. Some say that that’s because they’re able to effectuate their goals without a J. D. Whereas before, law school was that safe route of, ‘I’ll be able to make money.’ Students are less likely to think that.”