If You Build It, the Law Students Will Come

In the 1989 motion picture Field of Dreams, a farmer named Ray (played by Kevin Costner) is walking in his cornfield when he suddenly hears a voice whisper, "If you build it, he will come." This may be the most misquoted line in Hollywood history, as many people mistakenly quote it as, "If you build it, they will come."

When Ray the farmer hears the whisper in his ear (and by "ear," I mean one attached to his head, not an ear of corn), he does exactly what you or I would do if we were farmers and we were walking in our cornfield and heard a strange voice whispering in our ear, urging us to engage in some sort of vaguely defined building project. He plows his cornfield under and builds a baseball diamond. Not just a little league diamond that his kids can play on. No siree, James Earl Jones! Farmer Ray builds a beautifully manicured diamond that looks like it belongs in Wrigley Field or Fenway Park.

It is not clear whether Ray the farmer was paid a subsidy by the federal government for doing this. However, as it turns out, he stops growing corn and mysteriously starts growing baseball players, as Shoeless Joe Jackson, seven other players from the infamous Chicago "Black Sox," actor James Earl Jones, and Ray the farmer's dead father all mysteriously appear on the diamond to comprise a team.

Old Ray has a ball player here, a ball player there, here a player, there a player, everywhere a ball player.

This gives a whole new meaning to "farm club."

Well, there may soon be a sequel to Field of Dreams. No, not Field of Dreams II, but Field of Legal Dreams. In the sequel, a Tennessee farmer will be walking in his cornfield and will suddenly hear a voice whisper, "If you build a law school, somebody ... in fact lots of people ... will come and pay you tuition even though there may not be any jobs waiting for them after they graduate!"

At this point, Ray the farmer will plow under his cornfield and build Ray's Law School.

Only in Hollywood, you say? Well think again, Christopher Columbus Langdell-breath! Suddenly new law schools are springing up all over the Volunteer State like kudzu or Cracker Barrel restaurants.

For years, the Volunteer State has had four laws schools: the Big Orange College of Law in Knoxville, the Vanderbilt-Peabody Law School in Nashville, the Elvis Presley Center for Advanced Legal Studies and Jelly Donuts at the University of Memphis, and the Tammy Wynette Stand-by-Your-Lawyer Law School, a/k/a the Nashville School of Law.

For years, these four institutions of higher legal education have cranked out hundreds of new lawyers each year, anxious to pass the bar, hang out their shingles, and pursue justice.

Now one would think that during this Great Recession when only bailed-out Wall Street bankers are making money, four Tennessee law schools would be enough. This is particularly true when you consider that on graduation day last spring, approximately 50 percent of Tennessee's law school grads were still looking for jobs. But Lincoln Memorial University and Belmont University have apparently both decided that " to borrow a line from pop philosopher Zig Ziglar " "we're having a recession, but they've decided not to participate!" Last fall, Lincoln Memorial University opened the new Duncan School of Law in Knoxville, which is located just a Peyton Manning pass from the Big Orange College of Law. In fact, the Big Orange College of Law and the new Dunkin' Donuts School of Law are almost side-by-side, the law school equivalent of McDonald's and Burger King.

Meanwhile, in Nashville, the new Belmont University College of Law will open its doors in the fall of 2011. I am not sure what they are going to call the new law school at Belmont. Maybe the Trisha Yearwood College of Law. Or better yet, the Cowboy Crush College of Law.

With the opening of the Dunkin' Donuts College of Law and Cowboy Crush Law School, Tennessee will have six law schools.

But if that's not enough, here's some good news for wannabe lawyers in the Volunteer State. There are now more than 100 online law schools in America, so you can go to law school at home in your boxers, or for that matter, in somebody else's boxers. True, none of these online law schools have been accredited by the American Bar Association. But it's just a matter of time before this happens. After all, Super Bowl XLII and the 2007 BCS National College Football Championship Game were both played at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. This is remarkable given the fact the University of Phoenix is an online college that does not even have a football team. Maybe it has a virtual football team, or an online football team. But even without a football team, it has a 72,000-seat stadium that has hosted the Super Bowl and the BCS National Championship Game! And you believe that an online law school won't eventually turn out a Supreme Court Justice?

I realize that online law schools have certain limitations. For example, how can a 1L be humiliated by a contracts professor online? And how can you have an online moot court competition?

Well, I don't know the answers, but I can tell you this. Before he attended the University of Florida, Tim Tebow was home-schooled. And he ended up winning the Heisman Trophy.

And speaking of homeschooling, that will no doubt be the next option in legal education. Why any day now, you will turn on your TV and see a commercial featuring Robert Shapiro, co-founder of the Legal Zoom Law School, announcing that you can buy the Legal Zoom Home Law School Kit, and study on your own. Heck, that's what Abe Lincoln did.

Well, I don't have a cornfield. I don't even have a tomato patch. But at my age, I do hear voices from time to time, and this morning I heard one that sounded remarkably like James Earl Jones. He whispered, "If you build it, you may charge tuition!"

And so, I am pleased to announce that coming soon to your PC screen will be Bill's Online Law School. This new virtual law school will not have classrooms or a library or a moot courtroom. However, I am hoping that some day we will have a football stadium. In fact, if enough people enroll in my new law school, I believe there's a very good chance that Super Bowl XLVII will be played there " in Bill's Online Law School Stadium.


Bill Haltom BILL HALTOM is a partner with the Memphis firm of Thomason, Hendrix, Harvey, Johnson & Mitchell. He is past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is a past president of the Memphis Bar Association.