With an emotional recounting of his career as a trial lawyer, Alexander “Zander” Blewett III presented the University of Montana’s School of Law with the largest financial gift in its history Monday, saying the donation would help educate the next generation of leaders.
Packaged under the Blewett Scholars Fund, the $800,000 gift will help pay tuition for students who earned their bachelor’s degree from Montana State University and are studying law at UM – a program that’s been nationally recognized as one of the best in the nation.
“Even though the UM law school is probably the top bargain in the country for offering the best legal education, we’ve got a problem,” Blewett said. “The good students have an opportunity to avoid going here because they can go to Tulane, where the tuition is three or four times as much, but it’s still cheaper because they’ve got the big scholarships.”
Blewett, who made the gift with his wife, Andy, said the new scholarship fund will help the school become more cost competitive with the nation’s other top law programs.
“That’s what this scholarship is about, and trial work is the root cause of this gift,” Blewett said. “The law school has been very good to the Blewett family.”
The family’s ties with UM’s School of Law go back generations, starting with Alexander Blewett Jr., who graduated from the program in 1938.
Zander Blewett followed by graduating from the school in 1971. He remains the only Montana lawyer admitted to the Inner Circle of Advocates and twice has been named the state’s Trial Lawyer of the Year.
Both of the family’s sons – Anders and Drew Blewett – also graduated from the School of Law in 2007. They currently practice with their father at Hoyt and Blewett in Great Falls.
“Our two sons went to school back East and decided to come back to Montana,” Blewett said. “They came to this law school, and they also learned their trial skills. The highest achievement of a trial lawyer would be to have his son follow in his footsteps. We’ve got both sons, and that’s pretty cool.”
The School of Law at UM was recognized by National Jurist magazine as the seventh “Best Value Law School” in the nation – a mark that considers cost, debt load, bar passage and the employment of graduates.
Law School Dean Irma Russell and UM President Royce Engstrom called the program a beacon of justice within the state. It is, they noted, the state’s only law program, though available scholarships have been minimal when compared to other schools.
“We want every student who has the desire and capability to study law to attend the University of Montana’s School of Law, and to have the financial capabilities to do so,” Engstrom said. “Scholarships are important in attracting a diverse student population. They also attract the most promising students to our School of Law and to our university.”
Monday’s proceedings played out before a crowd of roughly 50 people, including U.S. District Court judges Donald Molloy and Dana Christensen, along with other regional judges and lawyers.
Zachary Rogala, an MSU graduate studying law at UM, said the Blewett Scholars Fund will help keep Montana students in Montana, helping the UM program become a regional school of choice.
“They’re cultivating future seeds for other MSU graduates,” said Rogala. “We’ve been blessed with community members who have contributed to the prosperity of our state by whatever means possible. This is a great opportunity for the School of Law and the state.”
The new scholarship will pay half the tuition costs for three School of Law students each year. The first round of Blewett scholars will be announced this fall, Russell said.