Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

March 19, 2014

Appalachian School of Law announces cutbacks

GRUNDY, Va. — A reduced student body and other cutbacks are part of a plan at the Appalachian School of Law to downsize its current operations.

Dean Lucy McGough and Judge Keary Williams, chair of the board of trustees, recently announced that the law school was downsizing and returning to the 150 to 160-student enrollment it had 10 years ago.

Williams said that a small student body was more in keeping with the school’s mission and original design. In the past four years, the student body has been as large of 250 to 300 students.

Nationally, fewer college graduates are taking the Law School Admissions Test and of that number, fewer highly qualified applicants are deciding to pursue a legal career, school officials said in their statement released Tuesday. The school experienced a decrease in the number of qualified students in the fall of 2013, and a further decline is anticipated this academic year.

“Although several of our sister law schools in this region are ballooning, in view of the declining credentials of law school applicants, we believe we should take this opportunity to downsize and concentrate on what we do best: Offering a practice-based curriculum in a small, engaged learning environment,” McGough said. “We believe we can offer a student ratio of 12 to one, well below ABA suggestions for professional accessibility.”

Downsizing will include “several significant belt-tightening steps,” school officials said. At the meeting on March 11, the board of trustees approved cuts to all its administrative units, except admissions, a substantial reduction in the law library’s budget (principally redundant sets of reporters), and to decrease the number of full-time faculty and reduce faculty salaries.

Calls and an email from the Bluefield Daily Telegraph were not returned Tuesday.

The law school currently has 222 students. In the future, the school expects to see this reduced to 150 to 165.

“We will become a smaller, more student-centered institution,” McGough said. “We will return to our size in our early days when it began 15 years ago. We know how to live ‘lean’ until the numbers of qualified students rebound. We expect that increase to begin in two years, although we probably will decide to remain small.”

McGough said the law school would move forward with its nationally ranked specialty in natural resource law and add a new specialty in public health law.

“We remain committed to our mission of offering professional opportunities for college graduates in this six-state area and have opened two new programs, with part-time options, for a Master’s degree in legal studies.”

Although the law school has announced budget cuts, it plans to invested in a “greatly expanded distance-learning capability” that will allow students who live in places too far away for frequent commute to Grundy, Va. School officials said they hope to offer some on-line courses and conferences as early as fall this year.

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