Legal and Finance: Making the Law; A New Chapter in Birmingham's Legal History Is Officially Launched Next Week. Business Editor John Duckers Reports

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The first new law school to be created in the UK for 20 years is formally opened next week.

Based in the Jewellery Quarter, the Birmingham branch of the College of Law has 300 post-graduate students.

The ceremony will be performed on Tuesday by Digby Jones, director-general of the CBI.

The branch is already the largest vocational legal institution in the West Midlands. It is expected to double its student intake to nearly 600 in 2002.

The building - formerly the headquarters of Midlands industrial company, Cannings - occupies 45,000 square feet in Great Hampton Street, Hockley and cost over pounds 7 million to acquire and redevelop.

This newest branch of the College of Law, the largest law school in Europe, has a staff of 35 including 17 lecturers, several of whom joined from rival institutions such as Nottingham Law School, UCE and De Montfort University. It opened to students in September. Its director is John James, a solicitor and former chief executive of Birmingham Forward, the organisation which promotes the skills and excellence of the city's professional and financial services sector.

Mr James said: 'It is a very exciting time for our staff and our students. We have watched the premises grow from a building site into a modern IT-led home of legal education. Now we are open for business, we expect to double in size in 12 months, as prospective 2002 students visit us and see for themselves the exciting facilities and our dynamic programmes.

'Most of all, local law firms in the West Midlands - including some of the leading national and international practices based here in Birmingham - are lined up to help train and develop the lawyers of the future.

'It has all gone very well and the response of the students has been enthusiastic and positive.

'There have been remarkably few teething troubles with either the building or the technology. Everyone who has visited the building has been excited by its appearance and its atmosphere. Anybody coming to the branch this year was indulging in a small piece of faith because when they were applying there was no building and no teachers. They must have had a small doubt whether it would open in time. Happily at the end it did.'

The majority of those at the college are day students returning home to the likes of Worcester, Shrewsbury and Stafford. Only about ten per cent are from sufficiently far away to rent accommodation in the city. But that is likely to expand.

Mr James believes his branch of the college offers something different because it is in such close proximity to the city's law firms.

'They can see them every week,' he said. 'It means the students can hit the ground running when they do their training projects. It helps them to be more commercially aware, better trained and better value.'

The new branch of the College of Law, the largest provider of legal training in Europe, is the first all-purpose law school to be built in the UK for 20 years. More than 700 students should be in place by 2003. Birmingham is the centre of the largest number of law firms in the UK outside London, and the opening of the branch has been universally welcomed by the legal community of the West Midlands, together with the City Council and Birmingham Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

The 45,000 square foot three-storey listed building has been converted, renovated and extended. A key feature is the exciting 'occulus', a glass dome at the top of an atrium rising three floors from the reception area. Facilities include a large lecture theatre for over 150 people, a variety of large and small teaching rooms, together with study rooms and administrative offices.

Of particular relevance to the students is a library incorporating 140 computers to meet their IT needs, as increasingly the trend is for legal education to be delivered on-line.

Mr James, a former partner of the law firm Hammond Suddards Edge, went on: 'It is long overdue that the College of Law should have a presence in Birmingham, the second largest legal centre in the UK. …