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Arizona center for law to show all facets of profession

Proponents of the Arizona Center for Law and Society, which is slated to begin construction this July in downtown Phoenix, say the educational and civic institution will become a beacon of knowledge allowing residents to understand the positive influences law has on their every-day lives.

The $129 million center scheduled to open in fall 2016 will serve as the new home for the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University, while giving a new address to the Arizona Center for Law and Society, officials say.

The law center will also have a public law library and civic outreach center and house the ASU Alumni Law Group, the nation’s first nonprofit, privately financed teaching law firm.

The six-story, 260,000-square-foot facility will occupy most of the city-controlled block between Taylor, Polk, First and Second streets in downtown Phoenix.

Phoenix City Council in January 2013 approved city staff to enter into contracts with ASU officials to facilitate’s the development of the law center, Independent archives state.

The center will include two levels of underground parking and direct ground level access to public sidewalks and plazas.

Through its location, programming and architecture, the Arizona Center for Law and Society will serve as a community centerpiece, where ideas from some of the best law students in the country contribute to the justice system, Phoenix officials contend.

City officials say approximately 1,000 construction-related jobs and $1 million in construction sales tax will be generated by the center’s construction.

In December 2012, Phoenix City Council approved using $12 million from the city’s Downtown Community Reinvestment Fund to help finance the project.

The center is still awaiting final approval from the Arizona Board of Regents, and construction could begin soon, according to Douglas J. Sylvester, dean of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at ASU.

Law in life

Dean Sylvester says the law center -- from architecture to programs, displays and educational offerings -- is meant to give local residents a new view of one of the oldest professions in modern society.

“The Arizona Center for Law and Society is larger than the law school itself,” he pointed out of the institution’s educational pursuits. “It seeks to connect the legal hasn’t always represented itself as the best public advocate, Dean Sylvester points out.

“We have been a great law school but at times sleepy and disengaged with the general public,” he said. “We have really been focused on research. I think sometimes people don’t know how much we (members of the attorney-at-law profession) actually do.”

Dean Sylvester says the building itself will spark a change in public perceptions.

“Every single day you are going to walk by that building and it is going to remind you of the positives law has in your life,” he said. “It is a spectacularly open structure. It isn’t a law school into itself: The first two floors are open completely to the general public.”

As with any industry, the practice of law is one that provides day-to-day protections some may take for granted, Dean Sylvester says.

“We can educate people about the role of mercy in law,” he said while recalling typical conversations he has had with people who learned from their brush with the law to begin a new chapter in their lives.

“They made mistakes, but instead of crushing them the law was used to help them. I don’t think those stories are told enough. We are a public law school and we have a commitment to serve our public. I think a law school should be relevant to its community.”

Dean Sylvester says it’s no secret which end of the Totem Pole lawyers rate in overall professional likability.

“Lawyers are held in a very low regard,” he explained. “We are still ahead of congressman, thank God. But being a lawyer used to be a respected profession.”

He says the Arizona Center for Law and Society will change those misconceptions.

“At ASU law we graduate lawyers you will actually like. We work really hard to instill a number of values in all of our graduates,” he said. “Clients are often pushing agendas, and the lawyers end up being a tool of that agenda.”

Civic center feel

Tomas Rossant, founding member of New York-based Ennead Architects, says the architecture of the law center should stimulate interest and engagement.

Ennead Architects designed the Arizona Center for Law and Society.

“Really, this building has to feel like a civic building -- they are highly accessible, you can approach them and they are visually permeable,” he said in a April 1 phone interview.

“It is important to us that there was porous accessibility. This is where they (the general public) needs to come to understand how the law impacts their lives.”

Mr. Rossant points to the first two floors and grand lobby planned as proof this building is built for the masses -- not just attorneys at law in training.

“This will address the real lack of knowledge of the average citizen,” he said of the new modes of teaching that will be present through technological offers such as a 20-foot glass wall projecting the news of the day and the analysis of that news and how it could impact the legal community.

“The great lobby of this building can truly be a part of the public realm. This is going to be one of most important buildings in Arizona.”

In tune with the city’s revitalization efforts in downtown Phoenix, Mr. Rossant says he hopes when the building comes out of the ground over the next year or so it will serve as a beacon of that endeavor. “It (the planned building) is critically dynamic and very public.”

News Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at 623-445-2774 via e-mail at tthornton@newszap.com or follow him at www.twitter.com/nvnewsman

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