Philadelphia can now officially do what it hasn’t in the last 30 years: say hello to a new law school.
With the state Department of Education recently approving Drexel University’s plans to start its College of Law and the Philadelphia Planning Commission clearing the way for the university to build a $13 million facility on its West Philadelphia campus, the Delaware Valley will soon house another law school, its sixth overall. Drexel said it will break ground on the facility in the next week or so; classes are slated to start next fall.
Drexel’s College of Law, which will join Temple’s James E. Beasley School of Law and area law schools at the University of Pennsylvania, Villanova, Rutgers at Camden and Widener, will focus on intellectual property, health care and business-related legal issues.
Drexel’s Senior Vice President and General Counsel Carl “Tobey” Oxholm III, who was named senior vice president for the Drexel Law Center two weeks ago, said Drexel began planning the law school in earnest once the university merged with MCP Hahnemann Hospital in 2002.
With the “infusion of the medical side” creating an interest in synergizing fields of study at Drexel, a law school seemed a logical progression for the university, Oxholm said, adding that Drexel has more than 50 law-related classes that the university will continue in hopes of granting joint-degrees with the College of Law.
In 2006 the law school will offer doctor of jurisprudence degrees to full-time students before it offers a one-year master of legal studies degree, Oxholm said.
Oxholm said Drexel also plans to begin three-and six-month cooperative education programs. The Delaware Valley Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel announced in August it will work with Drexel to create the co-op programs and Oxholm last week announced an initial list of nearly 40 area corporations, law firms and non-profits that have partnered with the law school.
If Drexel becomes accredited and its co-ops go as planned, Oxholm said the College of Law will be only the second law school nationwide to offer six-month co-op programs out of a pool of nearly 200 law schools accredited by the American Bar Association. The other is Boston’s Northeastern University.
The first year Drexel can apply for accreditation by the ABA is in 2008, which is also the first year the university plans to offer its master of law degree, Oxholm said. Between the time Drexel opens the doors of its 44,000-square-foot building, slated for Market Street between 33rd and 34th streets, and the time the university said it hopes to gain ABA’s stamp of approval, students attending the school will face the prospect of graduating from an unaccredited school if the ABA delays certification.
But Oxholm said he is confident the approval process will run smoothly and said the university will have three chances for accreditation before the first class graduates.
“Drexel is a first-rate doctoral university, this isn’t going to be a fly-by-night thing,” Oxholm said. “… In one month I’ll be announcing my inaugural faculty, about eight faculty for 120 students. I have a quarter of them now. If people are so risk averse that we’re going to get accredited, go to Temple Law, go to Rutgers at Camden, I won’t take it personally. We won’t have any trouble filling our 120 spots.”
Though a few Temple law students and professors yesterday said they were either unaware of Drexel’s plans or said it was too early to speculate if the new law school would affect Temple, Edward D. Ohlbaum, law professor and director of trial advocacy and clinical legal education, said his initial reaction was positive.
“I have a high regard for the general counsel, Tobey Oxholm, he’s a very fine lawyer and a compassionate and committed guy,” said Ohlbaum, who also coaches Temple’s Trial Team. “What I heard they’re doing is they’re going to be attempting to meld the science and engineering parts of their curriculum into law and I think that would be a useful contribution to the profession.”
Ohlbaum said he didn’t see Drexel’s focused curriculum greatly affecting Temple or drawing students away from the university, which last year enrolled 323 students and had a total enrollment of 1,053. Both numbers are roughly double what Drexel projects it will enroll.
“We have very good people here who are offering wonderful courses in intellectual property and healthcare areas … it’s not as if there is a great unwashed population out there that is waiting for Drexel,” Ohlbaum said.
Second year law student Philip Keitel said interest in intellectual property, healthcare and business law is increasing among Temple students, and said if more Temple graduates push to enter those fields – the same ones Drexel plans to focus on – they could face a tighter regional job market.
“This could create more competition in the middle of the road,” Keitel said, referring to the caliber of area law schools like Temple, Villanova and soon Drexel. “And that’s where we are.”
Brandon Lausch can be reached at email@example.com.