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Wilmington University to start law school 

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Wilmington University announced Wednesday evening that it will be launching a law school. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – Wilmington University announced Wednesday evening that it will launch a new School of Law, which would be a dramatic change in the state’s legal landscape which has long had a sole program in Widener University’s Delaware Law School.

The private university based in New Castle has been working on the project for more than a year but announced this week that an Oct. 27 press conference would formally introduce the school.

Where the school would be based and when it would open are not yet known. WilmU has Delaware campuses in New Castle, Brandywine Hundred, Dover and Georgetown, but the press conference being at the newest Brandywine Hundred campus off U.S. Route 202 could be a hint. A note on an introductory website for the school also discloses that it has not yet been approved by the American Bar Association’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar though, which means it’s likely to start next fall at the earliest.

The launch of a law school is a major expansion for WilmU, which has increasingly moved to cater to working adults in recent years, especially through its MBA program. It’s a formula that the school will continue to embrace with the law school, saying on its website that “course schedules and curricula have been crafted to maximize the benefit for students who may be balancing professional and personal commitments in addition to their legal studies.”

It would be the first challenge to the state dominance of the Widener school that also sits on Route 202 near the Concord Mall. In 2010, the University of Delaware began investigating the viability of a public law school but the idea was ultimately scuttled less than a year later, leaving the private Widener as the only in-state option.

It’s also a departure from a partnership forged between the two schools back in 2016, that guaranteed qualifying WilmU graduates enrollment in Widener’s juris doctorate program.

Tellingly, WilmU is touting its “highly competitive tuition rates” for the impending program, with full-time students charged $24,000 per year and part-time students charged $18,000. Comparatively, Widener’s Delaware Law School’s tuition is about $57,000 annually for full-time students or $43,000 for part-time – or more than double what WilmU is planning.

The WilmU program will also launch amid a period of change at Widener, where Rodney Smolla, who helped found the Delaware-based program as dean seven years ago, departed in July to take over the Vermont Law School. Serving as interim dean now is Alicia Kelly, who most recently was associate dean for academic affairs and professor of law.

Meanwhile, leading the new school is Dean Phillip J. Closius, who previously led the well-regarded University of Baltimore School of Law and the University of Toledo College of Law. He has also taught at Southwestern University School of Law (California), the University of Bridgeport School of Law (Connecticut), and the Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law.

The Columbia Law School graduate practiced law at several firms before entering academia and continues to work with Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White, a full-service civil and criminal Maryland-Washington, D.C.-based law firm.

No other faculty has yet to be announced, though WilmU said professors would be “chosen for their extensive experience, commitment to excellence in teaching, and dedication to making a difference in the lives of their students.” The school also makes a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion for its enrollment to “reflect the diverse communities they will serve.”

That commitment comes less than a year after a steering committee comprised of judges, lawyers and educators published a report that found Delaware’s bar and bench lacked the diversity of its population. Among the challenges noted were the cost of a law degree and expanding access to underrepresented students graduating from community college or bachelor’s degree programs, both of which WilmU could help address.

The announcement of the new law school was welcomed by the Delaware State Bar Association, which represents, supports and advocates for the state’s lawyers.

“There is a great need for talented, new lawyers at a level that is unprecedented,” Charles Durante, president of the Delaware State Bar Association and a partner at Wilmington law firm Connolly Gallagher, told Delaware Business Times. “Consequently, it’s fair to say that Delaware lawyers wish Wilmington University well in the endeavor.”

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