The library at the Duncan School of Law may look like nothing more than 4,000 hardbacks in a medium-size room, but it is actually a high-tech experiment in cost containment. Most of its resources are online, and staples like Wright & Miller’s Federal Practice and Procedure — $3,596 for the multivolume set — are not here.
“We have a core collection,” says Sydney Beckman, the school’s dean, “and if someone needs something else, we provide it.”
Duncan, which opened two years ago, has 187 enrollees, all of whom have wagered that this library — and everything else about the school — is up to scratch. Because before these students can practice in every state, Duncan needs the seal of approval of the ABA, the government-anointed regulator of law schools.
That means complying with a long list of standards that shape the composition of the faculty, the library and dozens of other particulars. The basic blueprint was established by elite institutions more than a century ago, and according to critics, it all but prohibits the law-school equivalent of the Honda Civic — a low-cost model that delivers.
Instead, virtually every one of the country’s 200 A.B.A.-accredited schools, from the lowliest to the most prestigious, has to build a Cadillac, or at least come close. Duncan’s library costs $750,000 a year to maintain — a bargain when compared with competitors.
Is it Cadillac enough for the A.B.A.?
“We’ll see,” Mr. Beckman says. ...
OnDec. 2, Mr. Beckman and six colleagues from Duncan traveled to a hotel in San Juan, P.R., where the A.B.A. held its latest council meeting. The school had 15 minutes at a hearing to offer its arguments for provisional accreditation.
“This is just a pet peeve,” Mr. Beckman said last week, “but there is all this talk about the cost of legal education, and they make us fly to Puerto Rico and meet at the Ritz-Carlton?”
After his presentation, Mr. Beckman and others answered a number of questions, including a few about the job market for lawyers in east Tennessee. This bothered Mr. Beckman because, for antitrust reasons, employment prospects are not part of the ABA’s standards. He pointed that out to the council. “They didn’t really respond,” he says.
Nor did they hint at whether they would give Duncan a thumbs-up. In the past, law schools have learned a few days after their hearings. But since Dec. 2, there has been nothing. “The last thing we heard — and they didn’t mean this to be rude or anything — was at the end of the meeting in Puerto Rico,” Mr. Beckman says. “They said, ‘You can let yourselves out.’ “