LSU’s Paul M. Hebert Law Center Chancellor Jack Weiss thinks he’s found a way to deal with some of the state budget cuts that have plagued the higher education community over the past four years.
Weiss is betting on the country’s and the world’s increasing demand for energy to help the law center stay in the black and stay competitive.
Like it or not, the world needs lawyers, Weiss reasons, and why shouldn’t LSU tap into that need, especially being located in an energy-producing state?
So Weiss asked for, and was granted permission from the state this year to create the law school’s new Energy Law Center specializing in training lawyers in all matters of energy law.
The International Energy Agency estimates that world energy demand will increase by one-third by 2035, kick starting the formation of new and expanded segments of the energy industry.
Weiss is wagering that by offering specialized courses in international energy law, alternative energy law, energy taxation, nuclear energy regulation and environmental law, especially with respect to air and water, he can attract undergraduate and graduate students willing to come to LSU without a scholarship.
The law center will continue to offer its traditional oil, gas and mineral law courses, Weiss said.
Weiss should hope he’s making the right bet. State funding for higher has shrunken by about $426 million since 2008 as Gov. Bobby Jindal and the state Legislature have gone through their annual ritual of balancing the state budget amid disappointing state revenue.
During the same period, the law center has seen its state appropriation chopped in half, going from about $10.5 million during the 2008-09 fiscal year to roughly $5.5 million in the current fiscal year.
Weiss said the law center has had to increase tuition — from about $10.5 million to $17 million — during the same time period and keep a significantly smaller faculty than comparable law schools just to stay afloat.
“We can’t keep raising tuition and keep our competitive advantage,” Weiss said. LSU was recently ranked the third-best-value law school in the country, he said.
Jeannine Kahn, the assistant commissioner for academic affairs for the state Board of Regents, said LSU’s law center was granted a one-year approval for the Energy Law Center with the possibility it will be extended or made permanent after an evaluation next year.
State Commissioner of Higher Education Jim Purcell characterized the program as a think tank that will benefit a “high-energy state.”
“It’s a need in a state with lots of petroleum companies to make sure we can provide the legal resources that will attract interest,” Purcell said. ”And people are interested in energy law. We want all of our institutions to identify centers of excellence and promote these programs to meet the needs of the state’s workforce.”
As for Weiss, he’s confident his bet will pay off. The days when young attorneys could pick any law school, do reasonably well and then find a well-paying job are now over in the more challenging legal marketplace of today, he said.
Employers are looking for “lawyers plus,” in other words attorneys who have backgrounds in engineering; or finance; or who can work in foreign cultures, Weiss said.
The law center’s energy program, with plans for a master’s degree program in two years, will allow students to cross register for additional courses on LSU’s main campus in fields such as science, engineering and some business-related disciplines related to energy law, and vice-versa, Weiss said.
“People will want to come here to become better lawyers,” Weiss said.
Koran Addo covers higher education for The Advocate’s Capitol news bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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