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Bar News - April 16, 2010

FPLC Dean Hutson Cites Benefits of Merger with UNH


Dean John D. Hutson stands by a picture of Franklin Pierce Law Center in his office.
"I have to steer by the stars and not by the wake," said the dean of Franklin Pierce Law Center, John D. Hutson, in an interview with Bar News not long after the announcement that Franklin Pierce would be merging with the University of New Hampshire. He used the sea-faring terminology (a reflection of his long association with the US Navy as a Judge Advocate and Commanding Officer at the Naval Justice School) to express his conviction that he must look to the future rather than the past in making decisions that affect the direction of the law school.

And Franklin Pierce does have an illustrious and interesting past. Founded by the late inventor/lawyer/entrepreneur Robert Rines in a barn on Mountain Road in East Concord in 1973, its history is unusual (See Bar News January 2010). "But I bet when they had to move out of that barn to a different facility, there were some who had doubts then, too," said Hutson.

On March 16, Dean Hutson and University of New Hampshire President Mark W. Huddleston announced that the two schools had approved an affiliation agreement. The agreement is the first step in a multi-year process leading to a full merger. Pierce Law approved the affiliation March 4 and the University System of New Hampshire approved it March 15.

When the merger is complete, Franklin Pierce will become the University of New Hampshire School of Law, following approval of the affiliation by the American Bar Association and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Some alumni of the school have been concerned that Franklin Pierce will lose its identity by merging with UNH, but Hutson says that the merger will give the school more, not less, recognition.

"Actually, Franklin Pierce Law Center is not widely known outside of New England," he said, "although those who do know of the school consider its reputation excellent, especially in IP [intellectual property] law. But until I was asked to come here as dean, I had never heard of Franklin Pierce."

"Not only will the law center not lose its identity," he continued, "but it will, in fact, have a broader appeal as part of a university." Hutson said that after the merger, when graduates say that they have attended the University of NH School of Law, recognition will be instantaneous, just as it is with University of Indiana School of Law, or Florida State School of Law, etc. No one will say, "Oh—where is that?" as sometimes happens now when Franklin Pierce is named as one’s alma mater.

Hutson has heard from some alumni on the merger. "Many strongly support the affiliation," he said. "Some, but fewer, are opposed. Most simply trust that the trustees and I have done what is best for the school."

Other advantages

Said Hutson, "There are many other advantages as well in being connected to a university. UNH is a great research facility; it has a library of 1.7 million volumes and it’s one of only 13 sea-land-space grant universities in the country." As such, UNH is one of the few universities able to seek grants in all three areas and is able to provide strong support for marine research, agriculture (and related areas) and outer space studies.

Also, Hutson believes that merging FPLC and UNH is really the best thing that could happen to Franklin Pierce’s IP program, known around the world for its excellence. "We have such a great reputation in other countries and draw many of our intellectual property students from them. However, I think being part of UNH will make our IP program better known here in the US—and attract more students from our own country."

"We intend to create the "Franklin Pierce Center for Intellectual Property," continued Hutson, "which will host our many IP programs and serve as a new IP research center."

According to Hutson, while some people really like the small town atmosphere at Franklin Pierce/Concord, others are put off by it. Those people will be attracted by a law school affiliated with a university.

"Furthermore," he said, "and this is a great benefit—there will now be opportunities for joint-degree programs, such as law and business—and because of what’s called the three-by-three program, instead of seven years, students will be able to earn two degrees in six years."

However, the law school will stay in Concord. Said Hutson, "A number of law schools are dislocated from the main university; generally, those law schools are in the state capital. UNH likes the idea of a presence here in Concord within sight of the capitol dome."

FPLC a "cash cow"?

There has also been some concern that a healthy financial institution like Franklin Pierce might suffer by being absorbed into a bigger, but cash-strapped, institution. "The ABA has oversight of these mergers," said Hutson. "It really does watch over law schools to ensure they don’t become ‘cash cows’ for the larger central university."

Rather, UNH’s 122,000 alumni (many of whom give generously to scholarship funds), might mean that the law school could be stronger financially with the merger.

In addition, the law school will no doubt attract more applicants when affiliated with the university. By 2011, a year in law school will cost almost $40,000—and students will get more for their money at a university with its wide range of educational opportunities.

Also, the Webster Scholar Honors program, unique to FPLC, is attracting more and more attention and more interest on the part of law school students; the program, which is in effect a two-year Bar exam that eliminates the necessity of sitting for the usual exam, hopes to be able eventually to accept all who qualify scholastically. Being a part of UNH may promote this expansion and give the Scholars greater access to all those things that will make them "client ready" by the time they graduate. It’s could be an additional drawing card for the program.

"Changing our name doesn’t mean changing who we are," said Hutson. "We’ll still be an outstanding law school, just with more to offer."

Hutson has plans to retire in the summer of 2011. "That will give me time to launch the affiliation with UNH and ensure it is on track, but then give a new dean the opportunity to see it through. I think the timing is perfect, which is not surprising, since it was intentional."

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