TBA Law Blog

Posted by: William Haltom on Oct 30, 2018

Journal Issue Date: Nov 2018

Journal Name: Vol 54 No 11

It was a hot topic of debate by Tennessee lawyers for many months. Does the Volunteer State need another law school?

Tennessee now has six law schools, covering all three grand divisions of the Volunteer State. In Memphis, there is the Cecil C. Humphreys World’s Greatest Barbeque Law School at the University of Memphis. In Nashville, there is the Vanderbilt University Grand Ole Opry Law School, the Belmont University 95%ers Law School, and the Nashville GooGoo Clusters Law School. And in Knoxville there is the University of Tennessee Rocky Top College of Law and the John Duncan Donuts Law School.

You would think that six law schools might be enough for the state that gave the world the Scopes Monkey Trial. But earlier this year, a proposal was made to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission (THEC) to approve the creation of a new law school at Middle Tennessee State University. Actually, it was not a proposal for a new law school, but rather the relocation of the Valparaiso University Law School from Indiana to Murfreesboro. For several weeks, the THEC met with lawyers across the state to discuss whether there was a need for a seventh law school. It is an understatement to say that it was the subject of strong opinions in the Tennessee legal community. Many lawyers were adamant that six law schools is enough, and that the State of Tennessee needs another law school like a moose needs a hat rack.

These lawyers believe that law schools are not like Starbucks. You do not need one on every corner.

They further believe that the law that should govern whether Tennessee needs a seventh law school is the law of supply and demand. Simply put, they argued that the supply of new lawyers now being produced by America’s law schools already exceeds the demand for legal services, and if the demand for lawyers in Tennessee does grow in the future, our six current law schools can meet it.

But other lawyers felt just as strongly that there is an unmet demand for legal services in America, and more lawyers are needed in response. This group strongly disagreed with the notion that America already has too many lawyers. They agreed with my late friend Bob Steed that the idea that America has too many lawyers is an urban myth, and perhaps a rural one as well. As Bob often observed, "There are only a little over one million lawyers in America, in a country of over three hundred million people. What this means is that most Americans do not have a lawyer of their own, but are actually forced to share one with somebody else. This is not only inefficient, it is downright unsanitary."

Not surprisingly, some of the strongest advocates for the Valparaiso-at-Murfreesboro Law School were the Big Blue Raiders — proud graduates, administrators, faculty members and supporters of Middle Tennessee State University. MTSU President Sidney McPhee proudly noted that MTSU is the number one producer of graduates for the greater Nashville economy, and currently there is not a public university law school in middle Tennessee, the fastest-growing region of the state. The three law schools in Nashville are all a part of private schools.

On Oct. 16, the THEC met and resolved the issue at least for now. By a vote of 8 to 5, the commission turned down the proposal for the transfer of Valparaiso Law School to MTSU.

I just hope the THEC will now turn its attention to the more paramount issue facing Tennessee public education: The need to bring back a winning football program at the University of Tennessee.

There is no doubt that the demand for outstanding football players at UT now greatly exceeds the supply!

BILL HALTOM is a shareholder with the firm of Lewis Thomason. He is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and a past president of the Memphis Bar Association. Read his blog at www.billhaltom.com.