Jackson — The Capital City’s quiet little law school that slumbered through much of the 20th century is wide awake in the new millennium, building new facilities, increasing enrollment and rejuvenating its alumni association.
Mississippi College School of Law, located in downtown Jackson, is in the midst of a multi-phase building campaign and is about to publicly launch its first-ever capital campaign. The school is under new leadership, with the addition of Mississippi native Jim Rosenblatt, who joined as dean just 13 months ago. This year the school also enrolled its largest-ever class, at 183 students.
“Our class represents 63 colleges and 20 different states, although we draw primarily from the mid-South and have approximately 55% of students from Mississippi,” said Rosenblatt. “Our growth (in enrollment) is similar to the national trend, where there has been increased interest in law school. Even for the next school year, applications have been coming in at a robust rate.”
The dynamic changes taking place at the law school have been a long time coming. The school was founded in 1930 as the Jackson School of Law and served as a part-time night law school. Lacking permanent headquarters, classes were held in several Jackson locations, including Millsaps College and even a private home on President Street. When Mississippi College purchased the school in 1975, it changed the name and moved classes to the library on MC’s Clinton campus.
“Then, in 1978, Jackson businessman Robert Hearin and the United Gas Company donated the old United Gas building in downtown Jackson to the law school,” Rosenblatt said. “The building underwent a two-year renovation before we moved in.”
Still, whether the college would remain in that location was uncertain. Talk through the years would have it moved to the old federal courthouse in Vicksburg or the MCI building in downtown Jackson. Once a decision was made to stay put, MC was ready to move forward with expansion and renovation plans.
“Being located in the downtown area of the Capital City gives us some great strategic advantages,” Rosenblatt said. “First, we are able to employ adjunct professors who are some of the top practitioners in the area, both in governmental organizations and with private law firms. Secondly, the location gives our students work opportunities with top law firms and government organizations during their second and third years of school, as well as in the summers. Thirdly, our students can be involved with a combination of business, government, judicial and private practice activities.”
“This is just a tremendous location and the right place for the law school to be, which is one of the reasons we have made a commitment to downtown Jackson with our physical plans and location.”
Those plans are already well underway, with the first three phases complete.
Phase I, which opened in 2002, added a library wing to the law school.
Phase II, just completed, is an 18,000-square-foot, two-story addition designed by Jackson architectural firm Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons. The firm blended the new building with the old by continuing the art deco theme. This building has four large classrooms with state-of-the-art audio/visual support.
“Three of our classrooms have already been funded by generous donations,” Rosenblatt said. “The Lundy Moot Courtroom was donated by alumni Hunter Lundy and his brother, Matt, of Lundy & Davis, LLP in Jackson. The second large classroom, the Millette Master Teaching Center, was donated by alumni Sam Millette Jr. and his wife, Lynne. The third classroom was donated by an anonymous donor to whom we are very grateful. We are still looking for a donor for the fourth classroom.”
Phase III involved the acquisition, re-paving and fencing of a parking lot across from the school that assures all students have an easily accessible parking space.
“It might not seem that sexy, but it is a wonderful, wonderful thing to have!” Rosenblatt said.
Jackson contractor Mid-State Construction will begin Phase IV this month. This 10,000-square-foot multi-purpose building will include a student center with food service, indoor and outdoor dining areas and a bookstore; a conference center that can accommodate 190 desks for classroom instruction or 300 chairs for speaker programs, and a children’s law center that will enhance the school’s partnership with the Mississippi Court Advocacy and Justice Institute.
The final phase will be a renovation of the original building to add a new HVAC system, new lights and ceilings, and some electrical re-working.
To fund much of this active building campaign, the school has been in the quiet phase of a capital campaign. Launched about one-and-a-half years ago, the campaign has already raised more than $2.8 million — nearly half of its $6 million goal.
“This is a five-year campaign, so we are very encouraged by this much progress in 18 months,” said Thorne Butler, director of development. “We are currently preparing a brochure that will be sent to all our graduates that will educate them about the campaign’s progress and ask them to consider a gift.”
“We’ve never had a capital campaign before, nor this type of building program,” he added. “It has gone well so far because we have had a number of naming opportunities and our alumni have really stepped up.”
Alumni are generally considered key to the success of any school’s capital campaign. Butler estimates some 70% of the money raised will come from alumni, with the balance provided by friends and foundations. Therefore, an effort is well underway to revitalize the law school’s alumni association. That association, while in existence, has been as low-key as changes at the law school over the years, but like the current physical transformations on campus, it, too, is undergoing a metamorphosis.
“The association was very modest. We had a president and secretary, but frankly there was never much participation and no events of any great regularity,” Butler said. “However, alumnus Mike Maloney, an assistant dean here for 20 years, kept it going with a yearly newsletter, road trips to visit alumni and alumni gatherings.”
“We took the base he started for us and improved upon it by creating regular publications, increasing alumni gatherings and having face-to-face meetings between school officials and alumni all over the country,” he continued. “We’re not sitting at our desks, we’re getting out there!”
But the most important change at the law school may lie in its relationship with MC’s main college campus. Butler describes the rapport between the two over the years as “tenuous.”
“Since the arrival two years ago of Dr. Lee Royce as president of Mississippi College, things have changed,” said Butler. “He feels the law school is a very important part of Mississippi College and has pledged his support. He also persuaded 100% of the 24-member Board of Trustees to give to our building campaign, and they gave very generously. That’s an enormous statement!”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Mara Hartmann at email@example.com.