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Charter class eager, optimistic

Less than two years after Belmont announced it would open a College of Law, 125 students have accepted the school’s offer of admission and are ready to start classes this fall.

Many of the incoming students, chosen out of a group of approximately 400 applicants, say they are excited about the opportunity to be part of the school’s inaugural class.

For Belmont senior Molly Shehan, a music business major interested in studying entertainment law, Belmont’s law school was a good fit for her after she had looked at law schools with similar programs in both the Los Angeles and Chicago areas.

“I really like the Belmont community,” Shehan said. “The quality of education and effort is unprecedented, and after attending the lectures and open house events they offered, I am confident in the school’s success.”

The law school hosted an open house that gave Shehan an opportunity to talk to faculty members who will begin teaching this fall. “You could tell they knew Belmont and understood its mission and purpose.”

In addition to her interest in the programs offered at Belmont Law. Shehan, a Raleigh N.C., native, also sees value in staying in Nashville.

“Nashville has a very strong community,” she said. “Everyone really wants you to succeed and see you at your full potential. I also believe in the growth of the music industry here in Nashville.”

Living in Nashville was also a major factor for Miranda Belcher, another incoming law student. Belcher, a Berry College graduate, plans to use her accounting degree to pursue a career in tax law or family law.

After moving with her husband to Nashville from Atlanta four years ago, she looked at the two longtime Nashville law schools: Vanderbilt School of Law and the Nashville School of Law. Vanderbilt, with around 4,800 applicants a year, an acceptance rate of less than 4 percent and $45,750 annual tuition, was not the best option for Belcher; graduates of the Nashville School of Law, much less expensive at around $5,000 a year, can take the bar exam only in Tennessee.

The announcement of Belmont’s new college in October 2009, however, proved to be the right combination of both for Belcher.

“I was so excited to say I would be in the inaugural class of the Belmont University College of Law,” said Belcher. “Belmont is such a widely-recognized school in the South—this will now serve as an alternative to Nashville School of Law and Vanderbilt School of Law.”

Belcher had initial concerns about attending a brand new, unaccredited law school in which she would invest $32,000 in tuition for each of the first two years. Only after that period would she and other students know if Belmont’s College of Law would win provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association.

If the ABA grants provisional accreditation in 2013, then Belmont could apply for full accreditation in 2015. A plus for the new students is that it only takes provisional accreditation for this year’s entering class to be considered graduates of an ABA-approved school.

After meeting with professors and leaders, Belcher said she is confident that she’s made the right choice.

“I am not worried anymore; it’s exciting to a part of a new law school,” she said.

College of Law Dean Dr. Jeff Kinsler said that, from the planning stages, the school wanted to engage prospective students who would take a chance on a fledgling program and help it develop.

“(The law school) is looking for people who are somewhat entrepreneurial because they are going to have to help us build this,” he said. “We’ve tried to attract people who are really eager.”

Kinsler is optimistic this class will be able to do all the things any charter class must do, such as establishing the law review, moot court and student organizations.

According to Kinsler, Middle Tennessee State University, University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Vanderbilt, along with Belmont, are “leading feeders” of the inaugural student population. Most of them come from within a 4-hour radius of Nashville.

But Shehan said she also met incoming students from Berkeley, Ohio State and Notre Dame.

“There is a lot of diversity in ages and background,” she said.

This diversity, with a willingness to try new things and help develop new precedents, makes the charter class ideal for Belmont, Shehan said.

“The students I have met so far are innovative, creative and willing to take a risk,” she said. “The law school may be new, but the risks are very calculated. You know what to expect. I’m willing to take that leap of faith.”

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