Last week, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill to authorize the establishment of two new public law schools along the state’s southern border, one in El Paso, the other in the Rio Grande Valley. Any of Texas’s current universities can propose a law school in either (or both) location, with observers expecting University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and University of Texas El Paso to be the most likely candidates due to proximity.
Texas currently has ten law schools, half of which are public. Though Texas has the second largest population of any state, California, New York, and Florida all have more law schools with 20, 15, and 12 respectively.
The El Paso area and the Rio Grande Valley are both underserved legal markets where aspiring lawyers face geographic barriers to earning a relatively affordable JD. The nearest law school to the Rio Grande Valley is St Mary’s University School of Law, 300 miles away in San Antonio. El Pasoans must travel 350 miles away to Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock. This prevents Texans in those areas from being able to attend law school without moving away from home. To put this in a local context, the overwhelming majority of students at University of Houston Law Center are hometown commuters.
While other states, including Louisiana and Tennessee, have declined to add public law schools in recent years, Texas faces a different set of circumstances. Indeed, in 2007 the Texas legislature voted to establish a public medical school in El Paso, and today Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso Paul L. Foster School of Medicine is a thriving school with nationally unique Spanish language programs.
Now the bill moves to the Texas Senate, where it could be passed on to Governor Abbott for signature by the end of May. You can read and track the progress of the two House bills, HB 695 and HB 199, and one Senate bill, SB 603, at Texas Legislature Online.