You won’t find the University of North Texas at Dallas (UNT Dallas) College of Law on the list of Ivy League or even Big 12 conference schools. But the UNT Dallas law school more than makes up for the lack of name recognition with its drive to provide its diverse student population with an attainable and affordable path to a law degree. With some of the lowest tuition costs in the nation, the law school aims to create a contemporary curriculum while helping graduates avoid student debt.
UNT Dallas College of Law first opened its doors as an unaccredited law school in 2014 with former Senior U.S. District Judge Royal Furgeson Jr. as the school’s founding dean. Upon Furgeson’s retirement in 2018, Felecia Epps became the second dean of UNT Dallas College of Law, and looking back on her first year at the helm has caused her to reflect on the significant achievements made in just that short time.
For starters, consider the law school’s bar exam pass rate for the 2018-2019 school year.
Increasing the law school’s bar exam pass rate is a big goal as the law school works toward earning full accreditation from the American Bar Association (ABA). To achieve that, the school must have a pass rate of at least 75 percent, or a rate within 15 points of the state average of 67.80 percent. “It was the highest that we’ve had so far, at 61.18 percent, but of course we need to get it much higher than that,” Epps says.
In 2017, the ABA granted UNT Dallas College of Law provisional accreditation, which means its progress is being closely monitored, with a deadline of June 2022 to qualify for full ABA accreditation. In the meantime, provisional accreditation gives the law school and its graduates all of the rights and recognition of a fully accredited law school. Combine that with a low tuition rate, and it’s a good option for students interested in earning a law degree.
“It’s a process of figuring out what changes we need to make internally, what resources need to be devoted to bar preparation or to certain classes in order to help our students be successful,” Epps says.
“One of our commitments is keeping our tuition low, and right now, at $15,738 per year for state residents, we’re the lowest in the state,” Epps says.
Epps also doesn’t shy away from touting the law school’s innovative curriculum.
“We focus on a different teaching method, where students have multiple assessments in our classes, which means they have quizzes; they have midterms; they have papers; they have other things to help them measure how they’re mastering the material,” Epps says.
It’s a departure from traditional law schools that give students just one “make or break” exam per semester.
“Whether that’s an effective way to teach people anything, I would say it is not, but it’s the way many law schools actually operate,” Epps says. “We have this multiple assessment model so the students can gauge how they’re learning, and the faculty can as well. So, they’re actually making progress as they move through the semester and master the material, and then the final exam is the ultimate measure of that.”
Location is another big factor in attracting students to the law school. UNT Dallas College of Law is located in downtown Dallas at 1901 Main Street.
“Our location is critical because we’re within walking distance of the courthouse [and] lots of lawyers,” Epps says. “This means students can easily go and sit and watch court or meet with attorneys.”
And UNT Dallas College of Law is expanding to the historical Dallas Municipal Court building, which sits across from the school’s current location.
Epps says the plan is to move into the second, newly renovated building this summer to become a two-campus school.
“We’re looking forward to moving in at the end of June,” she says. “There’s going to be a museum space within the building because it has historical significance as well, and that part will be separate from the law school.”
What’s unique about the building’s history? Lee Harvey Oswald, accused assassin of President John F. Kennedy, was fatally shot there in 1963. At that time, the building housed Dallas’ police headquarters, and Jack Ruby shot Oswald in the building’s basement just days after the Kennedy assassination.
“There will be a time when the public can come and visit to learn the history of the Oswald shooting and everything connected to that,” Epps says. “It will likely be just on the weekends, because we’re running a law school and that’s hard to do when people are in and out a lot.”
And what about the move-in date? “You know it will be pretty hot in Dallas in June, if I remember from last year when I got here,” Epps laughs. “So, we will probably quietly move over there and enjoy our air conditioning.” FN