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VOL. 128 | NO. 223 | Thursday, November 14, 2013

Law School Draws Honors, High-Profile Speakers

By Andy Meek

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(Daily News File/Brandon Dill)

From a slew of high-profile guests who’ve come to speak over the past year, to a string of recent awards, to a U.S. Supreme Court justice’s visit next month, it could be argued the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law is having a moment.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will be at the law school Dec. 16 to tour the facility and address students. His visit follows an extensive list of well-known guests who have come to the school to speak to students in recent months, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and local community leaders such as Jason Wexler, Tomeka Hart, Kelly English and others.

The school also is bringing in former Enron CEO Don Miller in a couple of months.

The law school’s dean, Peter Letsou, who came on board this summer, said the school is distinctive and worth celebrating for several reasons.

“One is our building – the facility is just spectacular, not only for Memphis, but it’s as nice as any law school’s in the country,” he said. “Our location is also important. The Downtown urban location we have obviously puts us very close to the legal community and provides incredible opportunities for students – which is really becoming the hallmark of legal education today.”

The college also has picked up several awards, rankings and individual recognitions recently.

The National Jurist, for example, has ranked the school as one of the best-value law schools in the nation in its new rankings. The school scored an “A-” in the rankings because of high bar-passage rates, affordable tuition, average debt upon graduation, employment rate and an attractive cost of living.

That continues a pattern of the law school being listed as one of the best-value law campuses in the nation, something that’s been noted multiple times by The National Jurist and preLaw Magazine.

The school was also listed as a "best bargain law school for black students" by Lawyers of Color magazine. And the Council on Legal Education Opportunity at its recent 45th anniversary celebration recognized the school as a member of the inaugural group of William A. Blakey Diversity Pipeline Architects.

That honor was part of CLEO’s “45 for 45” celebration, which recognized 45 law schools, 45 law firms, corporations and associations, and 45 individuals.

Meanwhile, the school also had the highest bar-passage rate among public schools in Tennessee on the most recent bar exam in July, with a pass rate of 91 percent. That’s higher than the state average of 84 percent among first-time test takers on the July exam.

A few months ago, the school announced a partnership with the Memphis Bar Association and the Service Corps of Retired Executives to launch a new incubator program for young attorneys.

That program, ESQ.BUILD, is the bar association’s sole-practitioner incubator designed for attorneys in their first three years of practice. The idea is for them to use the program to not only get training on how to practice law, but also on how to manage a law office.

The program will offer recent law school graduates office space at reduced prices, as well as mentoring, continuing legal education and a mix of other services.

As far as the college itself, Letsou’s vision is to help “expand and extend” its reputation.

“We have what I think everybody in Memphis knows is a real gem, and the job is to make others beyond Memphis and Tennessee realize the great thing we have here,” he said. “It’s also important to continue the strong tradition of excellence the school has established in its first 50 years. We have a tremendous record of passage, of getting good jobs for our students, and that helps us establish the case for a very strong return on investment from our students.”

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