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Bill seeks feasibility study for law school at Bowie State

The torch on the Bowie State University campus. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

The torch on the Bowie State University campus. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

Legislation before the General Assembly would create a task force to examine the creation of a third law school in Maryland at Bowie State University.

Del. Ron Watson, D-Prince George’s, the bill’s chief sponsor, said he wants to create a standout area of study to turn Bowie State into a “first tier” school.

“It seems like the new advances in technology and programs are going to all the other universities but not Bowie State,” Watson said Thursday. “(Bowie) has always been looked at as a place for teachers to go for graduate school, and I want to change that perception.”

House Bill 1621, which is cross-filed with Senate Bill 1033, would require Gov. Larry Hogan to allocate $100,000 for a feasibility study that would consider the economic, operational and legal feasibility of creating a new law school.

The study would also examine the other law schools in the Baltimore-Washington area and determine whether there’s enough enrollment to justify the creation of a new one.

With law schools struggling to maintain a level number of students, some question whether Maryland needs a third law school. The number of first-year law students dropped 29% nationwide between 2010 and 2015, according to American Bar Association data. In 2018, the number of first-year law students rose 2.8% nationwide, but that trend did not continue into 2019, according to the ABA.

Ronald Weich, dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law, said he believes the state already provides sufficient legal education.

“The market for legal education in Maryland is well-satisfied by the two existing law schools,” Weich said. “There are six law schools in the District of Columbia that also play a role in the Maryland legal community, so I don’t think a third law school is needed.”

Watson stressed that he intended his bill to increase the visibility of Bowie State, one of Maryland’s four historically black colleges and universities. While he said he doesn’t believe there are any areas of legal education not covered already by the University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland’s law schools, he added that people in his district would prefer to attend law school locally.

“This would be a little closer to home,” Watson said. “Right here in my district, there are many people who would opt to go to a local law school rather than to take a commute.”

Watson said that part of the inspiration for the bill came from a feasibility study done 10 years ago that looked at the creation of a “satellite” law school at Bowie State, at which students would spend two years studying law before transferring to the University of Baltimore School of Law.

To carry out the proposed study, the bill would create an eight-person task force, consisting of one member each from the Maryland Senate, House of Delegates, University System of Maryland and Bowie State University, as well as the Maryland secretary of higher education and the presidents of the Maryland State Bar Association, the Prince George’s County Bar Association and the J. Franklyn Bourne Bar Association in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

The task force would be required to submit its findings to Hogan by Dec. 1.


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