The El Paso Law School Initiative has apparently found an ally in its hunt for a possible home for a law school – UTEP’s new president, Heather Wilson.
On the job for less than three months, Wilson met with a small delegation of law school supporters on Oct. 30 and surprised them with her openness to the idea of finding a place for the law school on UTEP’s 421-acre campus.
“She said, ‘We have room for you,’” said Janet Monteros, an El Paso attorney and member of the law school initiative’s committee that met with Wilson.
El Paso is not just the largest city in Texas without a law school, but the only one among the nation’s 30 largest cities.
Getting one has been on the city’s wish list for more than two decades.
“The bottom line is the best way to start a law school is within a university system,” Monteros said. “And the fact that we’ve received a fairly positive indication from UTEP is a big shot in the arm for this endeavor.”
Word of Wilson’s comment made its way around town quickly after the Oct. 30 meeting with Monteros, Committee Chair Ray Mancera, Eighth Court of Appeals Justice Gina Palafox, lawyer Albert Armendariz and State Rep. Lina Ortega’s district director, Cassandra Urrutia.
“The obvious location for a law school is at UTEP if the Legislature wants one,” Wilson told El Paso Inc. in a matter of fact tone last week. “UTEP is quite capable of hosting it.
“In fact, UTEP has a very strong pre-law program at the Patti and Paul Yetter Center for Law, and we’ve had, I think, over 600 students go through it.”
A law school program, she said, would probably have 150 to 240 students maximum.
“It’s not a huge number of faculty or students,” she said. “You do have to provide a high-quality program.
“We would have to ensure that it’s funded sufficiently to have a really high quality program here. We wouldn’t want to have a program that’s not.”
Wilson said she doesn’t know how long that might take, but supporters of the law school initiative will be making another run at the Texas Legislature in 2021 and are confident that the proposal will get farther than the last one.
Ortega’s House Bill 327 to initiate the process of establishing an El Paso law school was recommended for passage on an 8-0 vote of the House Higher Education Committee.
But that was late in the legislative session, and the bill got bottled up in the end-of-session jam.
In the next session, supporters won’t be backing a “run-of-the-mill” law school, Mancera said, but an international school of law that would appeal to business interests on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
The working name is International Law School of the Americas.
“The idea of creating an international law school resonates with a lot of people,” Mancera said. “Where would you put it but where you have the largest international multiplex in the world coming together?
“Graduates of the International Law School in El Paso will take the normal law courses offered in a traditional law school. The study of international law will set us apart from other law schools not only because of the specialization in this growing field but because we are right on the border.”
The project would have to raise millions of dollars and, Mancera said, they’ve already had meetings with businessman Woody Hunt, a significant donor to educational projects, and others.
“He said we need to cover many bases before the next session,” Mancera said. “He was enthused by Dr. Wilson’s reaction and said we need to focus on the legislative side.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.