BATON ROUGE, La. – Access to a law school in North Louisiana is on its way, but through a pilot program.
The Louisiana Board of Regents on Wednesday said the Southern University Law Center can move forward with a plan to provide legal education opportunity in Shreveport through what's being called a “Semester in Shreveport” pilot program. It's designed to provide legal education and additional employment for citizens in north Louisiana.
“I am pleased and appreciative of the decision made by the Board of Regents,” said John Pierre, chancellor of the Southern University Law Center. “This vote of confidence will support our mission of being an institution of access and opportunity for all.”
The regents are unmoved from their earlier stance that a new law school not be established in Shreveport. The Southern University System agreed it is not feasible.
Instead, the three-phased approach to setting up a branch campus was proposed, with the acknowledgment "significant budget challenges" would have to be overcome for it to succeed.
The idea of the program came after extensive research and assessments from the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS). According to the submitted proposal by Pierre, NCHEMS concluded that the Shreveport-Bossier area is significantly under-represented with respect to graduate degrees and has significant disparities between the numbers of African American and white lawyers and legal professionals.
So initiating a “Semester in Shreveport” pilot program was seen as a feasible way of bringing legal education opportunities to the North Louisiana region. In addition, it will lay the foundation for an off-campus instruction site that may eventually result in the establishment of a branch campus of the Law Center after assessment and evaluation.
The pilot program is similar to a program established by the University of Idaho Law School, which is located in Moscow, Idaho and allows third year students to spend their last year of law school in Boise, the state capital of Idaho. The first phase includes allowing students in their final year of law school to complete up to 16 hours of coursework in Shreveport during Spring 2022 and 2023.
In addition, it will allow students to prepare for the Louisiana Bar exam and to pursue experiential-learning opportunities and potential employment opportunities in the region. With the success of phase I, the Law Center will develop the relationships needed to transition into Phase 2 and Phase 3.
The additional phases will require additional investments in faculty and curriculum adaptation, library resources, academic advising, physical facilities and technology capabilities.
Given the additional input from systems and the Caddo Commission, paired with the NCHEMS recommendation that regents explore a range of alternatives to incentivize new graduates to locate in Shreveport, the board voted to support the “Semester in Shreveport” pilot, which will allow the Southern University Law Center a year to assess its impact while gauging community financial support for a branch campus.
“This is exciting news for Louisiana and the citizens of Caddo Parish,” said parish Administrator Woodrow Wilson. Getting to this step has been "well over 20 years in the making and has the potential to yield great opportunities for our area.”
The Caddo Parish Commission has been an early supporter of the law school. In April 2019, the commission voted to provide $100,000 to assist with the feasibility study and has worked closely with Southern University and other community partners.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This version replaces an earlier report that indicated an actual law school would be created in Shreveport.