It takes a decade and a lot of lawyers to raise a building.

On Friday afternoon, with 300 in attendance, those who spent the last 10 years dreaming of and pursuing the University of Montana Law School's expansion stood in its shadow and thanked, among many others, the lawyers and judges and legal professionals who once walked the school's formerly confined hallways.

Courted for donations, UM's law school graduates approached the benchmark of $14.8 million with their wallets open.

"Anyone who can convince lawyers to give money to create more lawyers has the golden touch," said building committee chairman Doug Wold.

Wold was referring to former law school dean Ed Eck, who retired last year and has been tireless in getting the 45,000-square-foot addition built since it was first proposed in 2000.

Eck, who served as dean for 14 years, was not surprised that graduates contributed millions for construction of the three-story addition.

"Our donors from around the state recognized that they got a great education here, and they gave back," he said.

In attendance was Democratic U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, who helped secure $1.7 million in federal funds for the addition.

Eck was very clear to the senator early on that he wanted his support.

"Ed didn't just call me once," said Baucus. "One thing about the school is those who are associated with it are persistent. I'll give you that."

The expansion adds new lecture halls, faculty offices, classrooms and meeting rooms complete with the latest audio-visual technology. It features plenty of open space, nearly doubling the law school's size for its 250 students. Never again will students jockey for position to plug in their laptops. And, said Eck, the law librarians "now have space for a library."

The new building also puts the school in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The school was recently ranked No. 6 in the National Jurist's "best-value law schools."

That's going to change, said Baucus.

"There's no doubt that with this new building, No. 6 will be going up to No. 1 - pretty quickly," he said.

Law school student body president Adam Shaw noted the sacrifices of his fellow students, many of whom had to take classes in the Missoula Children's Theatre and across campus during construction over the last two years.

The building is quite impressive, he said, considering what he experienced when he first showed up on campus two years ago.

"When I pulled up to the law school, I assumed it was an ancillary building to the larger building," he recalled. "After a pretty lengthy seven-minute tour, I realized that was not the case."

Law school Dean Irma Russell, the first female dean in the school's history, lauded the building's aesthetic beauty and its importance to the school, which will usher in its 100th class next year.

"The building is, in my view, a work of art," she said. "But this is a dedication because it will serve as more than a work of beauty. It will serve the public good."

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

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