For years Alaskan law students have had to leave the state to pursue their education, placing them at a huge disadvantage compared to residents of other states. However, a partnership between UAA and Seattle University seeks to lessen the burden by offering a law curriculum at UAA, allowing students to earn credit from SU’s School of Law while remaining in Alaska.
The partnership, declared by a formal letter of intent signed by the two universities, is of particular importance to UAA and is highly anticipated by students and faculty alike.
“From our perspective, this is a wonderful opportunity that will reduce the cost for graduates. This partnership is a significant step forward for students in the greater Anchorage area that will not have to uproot to pursue their education,” explained Deborah Periman, associate professor of paralegal practice.
Currently, students who wish to attend law school in pursuit of their Juris Doctor degree must first complete a four-year degree before applying to an out-of-state law school. Alaska is the only state that does not have its own law school, a fact that often results in extensive travel costs for students who continue their education.
Currently SU offers a legal program entitled “Study Law in Alaska” that is held on UAA’s campus during the summers. The program, directed by SU professor Stephanie Nichols, has been running for the past decade, providing students with Alaska specific education and local internships.
“We’ve had over 150 students in the summer law program so far, with around 30 who have returned, or intend to return, to the state so far,” said Director Nichols. “This new partnership is just the next step in the natural evolution of what we’re currently doing.”
The Study Law in Alaska program has offered numerous opportunities for students over the years, a fact which bodes well for the new partnership.
“The fact that students can gain substantive legal experience here without a law school is an incredible achievement,” said Nichols in reference to the summer program.
The new joint program is currently seeking approval from the American Bar Association and the SU School of Law — meaning that the timeline and curriculum of the program is currently undetermined.
“The extent to which students are able to complete courses in Anchorage will depend largely upon the ABA regulations,” explained Periman. “This will be an incremental process, but both UAA and SU are working hard to move this forward as soon as possible.”
Students at UAA have expressed high interest in the partnership with many excited about the prospect of an in-state law curriculum.
“Access to that program would be massively beneficial to anyone with an interest therein. It would be a great windfall both for students already planning on getting a law degree and for students who aren’t yet sure,” said UAA student Alder Fletcher.
The partnership would also have a large impact for rural Alaskan students, who are often limited by their unique location. Officials from both UAA and SU recognize the educational challenges that rural Alaskans face and say that the planned program will seek to address their needs.
“There is really a huge need in Alaska to increase the number of Alaska Natives and other minorities on the bench. This partnership is unique in that it offers much greater opportunities to rural students,” said Periman.
In a press release regarding the joint program, SU dean Mark Niles shared his approval of the plan and expressed excitement at the prospect of extending legal education.
“Offering opportunities for Alaskans — with particular attention given to place-committed, rural and native Alaskans — to obtain a quality education in Alaska solidifies and aligns the mission of Seattle University School of Law with the legal needs of Alaska,” said Niles.
Though the details of the partnership are far from finalized, both universities are confident that they can offer a robust law curriculum that will benefit Alaska students for years to come. With support for the program expressed by faulty, students and members of the Alaska Supreme Court, the demand for such a program appears to have reached critical levels — demand, that according to Nichols, both UAA and SU are prepared to meet.
“The mission of our law school at Seattle University fits perfectly with UAA. We’re able to offer opportunities to Alaskans that would be otherwise unavailable,” said Nichols. “We’re working with Alaska, to ensure that things grow locally and naturally with our program benefitting the community.