School of Law Strategic Transition Plan February 9, 2015

Washington and Lee School of Law

Strategic Transition Plan

In response to the changes in the legal profession and legal education nationally, Washington and Lee's School of Law has adopted a proactive approach to stabilize the school's enrollment and financial structure without sacrificing its special strengths. The University's senior administration, in consultation with a working group of faculty and administrators within the law school and a task force of trustees, has developed a strategic initiative that is now being implemented after being presented to the Board of Trustees at its winter meeting this month.

As outlined in the bullet points below, Washington and Lee's law school intends to protect its core values, including its emphasis on educating students for professional integrity, as well as its defining characteristics of personalized attention, strong student-faculty relationships, and an innovative curriculum. At the same time, the financial framework will enable the school to return to self-sufficiency by the 2017-18 academic year.

Highlights of the Plan

  • Beginning with the 2015-16 academic year, the school will enroll entering 1L classes of about 100 students, resulting in a full-time student body of about 300. For comparison's sake, the current law school student body is 374 and includes the largest third-year class in school history. The Class of 2017, which entered last fall, had 101 members.
  • Tuition will increase at an annual rate of 2 percent per year.
  • Financial aid, which will continue to be allocated beyond historical norms, will gradually return to sustainable levels after a transition period.
  • In October 2014, the Board of Trustees authorized an increase in the payout from the law school's endowment income to 7.5 percent through 2017-18. This will add about $3 million to the law school budget in 2015-16.
  • The goal for the Law School Annual Fund, which provides unrestricted operating funds, has been increased to $1.5 million for 2014-15.
  • The current student-faculty ratio (9:1) will be preserved, but with smaller enrollments the allocation for faculty compensation will be reduced by about 20 percent (equivalent to six positions) and will be achieved through attrition over the four-year period. In addition, some senior faculty salaries will have a one-time salary reduction of 2 percent with salaries frozen for all faculty during the three-year period. 
  • Six administrative and staff positions will be reduced over a five-year period, and there will also be budget reductions for visiting and adjunct faculty.
  • Operating budgets will be reduced by 10 percent in 2015-16 with the exception of the library budget, which will grow by 2 percent.
  • Although the financial model currently shows operating deficits for 2014-15 through 2017-18, the law school budget is projected to be back in balance by the 2018-19 academic year.
  • The senior administration will closely monitor progress of the plan's effectiveness in terms of not only the financial results but also educational quality benchmarks. Two of the key quality benchmarks will be bar passage rate and job placement success. Changes implemented in 2013-14 have already shown significant improvements in these two categories- W&L law graduates achieved a 90 percent bar passage rate among those who took the bar for the first time in 2014 (an increase of seven percent over the previous year) and the most recent job placement statistics show just more than 70 percent of the members of the Class of 2014 were employed full-time in law-related positions (an increase of 5 percent over 2013 and 13 percent over 2012).