Penn State receives approval for separate law schools at Carlisle, University Park

mcarroll@centredaily.comJune 18, 2014 

Future Penn State law students will be able to choose between two fully accredited law schools that operate independently and play up the strengths of their locations in University Park and Carlisle.

The American Bar Association has granted Penn State’s request for separate accreditations for its two law school campuses, starting with classes entering in fall 2015, the university said Wednesday.

The name Dickinson School of Law will remain as an umbrella, but the independent campuses will now be known as Penn State Law at University Park and Dickinson Law in Carlisle.

Both campuses will have their own deans and offer law classes and opportunities for students tailored to the strengths of the faculty, Penn State officials said.

“Penn State is very serious about the law school business,” James Houck, who is serving as interim dean for Penn State Law, said Wednesday. “Penn State has had a full opportunity to look at this and decide they are all in. They want to have two terrific law schools.”

Houck said the University Park campus will take advantage of the interdisciplinary opportunities the university has to offer.

“Our plan is to rely on a fairly classical, and we think compelling and powerful, approach to legal education, which is to get our terrific scholars and creative lawyers and teachers to help students get a legal education that benefits them for years to come,” he said.

Gary Gildin, interim dean for Dickinson Law, said that campus will enhance its government and medical law programs to take advantage of its proximity to Harrisburg and Washington, D.C., and to Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

“We have spent the last year and a half working tirelessly to re-imagine a curriculum that focuses on (producing) practice-ready lawyers, so you have all the thinking and practical skills to hit the ground on day one,” Gildin said.

There will still be areas of overlap but, Houck said, future students will have a choice with the separate campuses.

“As students begin to understand Penn State has two good law schools, they will be able to choose,” he said.

Centre County Judge Bradley P. Lunsford said he thinks the transition makes sense.

“The schools will no longer need to share faculty and administration, so the focus and attention will be on a specific student body rather than on two separate campuses,” Lunsford said in an email. “Beyond that, I really see no change for prospective law students except a choice between two great schools with different academic and social environments.”

The university said both schools will offer three-year juris doctor programs and graduate law degree programs.

“The full approval of the ABA for operation as two law schools begins the next chapter of The Dickinson School of Law,” Penn State Executive Vice President and Provost Nicholas Jones said in a statement. “We believe that two law schools operating independently can more flexibly respond to the needs of law students entering a rapidly changing legal profession.

Penn State is offering two quality alternatives to prospective students, who can gain an extraordinary law school experience and education, and stand out in the marketplace for those qualities.”

The change does not affect law students currently enrolled or those who will enroll in the fall.

Matt Carroll can be reached at 231-4631. Follow him on Twitter @Carrollreporter.

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