Saturday, March 31, 2018
Savannah Law School is closing, and that's not good
In October of 2013, I went down to Savannah Law School to give the Justice Hunstein lecture there. It was a new school, started by a for-profit company that also ran the pretty mediocre John Marshall Law School in Atlanta (not to be confused with the decent John Marshall Law School in Chicago). I didn't know what to expect.
What I found surprised me. It was clear that the faculty there had established a place that had real promise. In a number of good ways, it reminded me of my own school, St. Thomas: They had a gifted and productive faculty that took scholarship seriously, their students were clearly hard working and devoted, and they were in a beautiful place (close to the park pictured above, in the midst of a historic district). Most of all--and also like St. Thomas-- they seemed to have a genuinely supportive and engaged community of students and faculty.
By the time I gave the lecture, I was really fond of the place and the people I had met. I even took a picture of the audience, so that I could remember them:
To begin the lecture, I told them that in a way, I was from their future-- a school that had also started from scratch, gotten traction, and was now solidly established and doing great things in a community that needed it.
It turns out I was wrong.
The parent of Savannah Law, John Marshall, has decided to sell the beautiful building and close the school. They are facing two lawsuits-- one of which claims that their plan all along was to finance the building through student loans until the market was right to flip the building. Ouch.
There is a special sadness to it all, too. Savannah is a fascinating and unique city, and (unlike the Twin Cities), this is their own law school. A future where a local, practical school trains the prosecutors and defense attorneys for the local bar is not going to be possible unless the school is saved. I think that there are too many law schools in the United States, but that does not mean that the small, local ones should uniformly be the ones to fail-- they provide some things big state schools cannot. One of those things is a sense of community that is harder in a bigger, more transitory place. Another is an intimate connection to where they sit, since they don't pretend to belong to the entire nation.
When I was there, Savannah Law felt like a place with a soul. There are too few of those places left, and it is worth fighting for them.
That is terrible. Savannah seems to breed colleges whose founders start something good but push the envelope of legality, i.e. SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design, where I worked a long time ago).Post a Comment