Elon University plans to start interviewing candidates for dean of its proposed law school next month, Dan Anderson, a school spokesman, said Tuesday.

If all goes as planned, the school will move the new dean into a downtown office by March 1 so that he or she can begin hiring faculty, staff and preparing for the fall 2006 opening, said Anderson.The announcement comes as the school races to renovate the old Central Library on the corner of Greene Street and Friendly Avenue by a year from January.

"Everybody recognizes it's an aggressive schedule but our team thinks it's imminently achievable," said Gerald Whittington, Elon's vice president for business, finance and technology.

The school plans to start demolishing the inside of the building in January and to start renovating it by March, he said. Being able to show prospective students the building is a key reason for finishing renovations about eight months before classes are scheduled to begin, he said.

The lead developer of Governor's Court condominiums downtown said he thinks the school can meet the fast deadline.

"They will probably have an advantage on permitting," said John Stratton, in reference to the fact that the city sold the building to a subsidiary of the Bryan Foundation for the sole purpose of creating the school. Permits can add weeks or months to the building process, he said.

"If they have the plans done and know what they want to do they will have no problem finishing that building," he said.

The more difficult part will be the internal logistics of starting a law school, like attracting good faculty and students and the years-long process of winning accreditation from the American Bar Association, say school officials and other lawyers.

A former N.C. Supreme Court justice, Willis Whichard, the dean of Campbell University School of Law, said the most important task for the new dean will be to hire qualified faculty.

"Elon won't have trouble finding students," he said. "There is such a large pool of people wanting to get a legal education."

Until the school builds a reputation over the next five to 10 years, though, it will tend to get students that other schools have turned down, he said.

"But Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is a good law school," he said.

The fact that Elon's arts and science program is highly regarded and that Greensboro is an attractive place to live will help the school market itself, he said. He recommended that the school hire a full-time fund-raiser as one of its first staff appointments because it will not have alumni to draw upon for years.

Anderson of Elon called the startup process a challenge, but not an overwhelming one.

"Schools all over the country start up," he said. "There will be recruiting challenges but the most important thing is that we are putting in place all the necessary steps to make (accreditation) happen."

Accreditation makes it possible for graduates to take bar examinations in any state in the country and ultimately practice law wherever they choose nationally. A school can apply for provisional accreditation after completing its first year, but there is no guarantee it will make the cut or win full approval in following years.

An ABA official in charge of legal education, Stephen Yandle, would not release information about the percentage of schools that are rejected each year, but called the bar "quite high" for gaining approval.

"By any measure it is a rigorous process," he said.

Last year two schools, Florida A&M University College of Law and Florida International University College of Law, won provisional approval from the ABA.

Local law firms Brooks Pierce McLendon Humphrey and Leonard and Smith Moore, in addition to 20 other individuals and groups, have pledged $10 million to jump-start the school and the accreditation process.

The managing partner of Brooks Pierce, Ed Winslow, said he would do everything he could to assist the startup because it would help both the community and the firm.

Having a law school would give graduating students in the region a reason to stay in Greensboro, he said. Attracting young people to the city is key to improving the economy of Greensboro, according to economic developers and Richard Florida, author of "The Rise of the Creative Class."

"It's very healthy to pull lawyers out of practice and put them in the classroom - it freshens their perspective," he said.

\ Contact Marta Hummel at 373-7070 or mhummel@news-record.com

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