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Charleston School of Law Comes Under New Management
The National Law Journal
It appears that The InfiLaw System is expanding its for-profit law school empire.
Administrators at the Charleston School of Law announced on July 25 that they had entered into a management-services agreement with InfiLaw, which owns and operates the Phoenix School of Law, Charlotte School of Law and Florida Coastal School of Law. The officials stopped short of describing the affiliation as a sale, but suggested that InfiLaw would take over the school’s operations.
Numerous calls to InfiLaw were not returned.
Charleston law dean Andy Abrams said in a written statement that the arrangement would give students access to more courses and job placement services.
“First and foremost, current students and those who will matriculate next month will have a law school experience that we could only have dreamed of and wished for when we were in law school,” he said.
Five prominent attorneys and judges founded the Charleston School of Law as a for-profit institution in 2003. (One of the founders, Alex Sander, who served as president of the school, told The State newspaper that he is no longer a co-owner of the school.)
At the time of the school’s founding, South Carolina’s oldest city had no local law school. The school won provisional accreditation by the American Bar Association in 2006 and full accreditation in 2011. According to the latest data from the ABA, it had a total enrollment of 631, a nearly 74 percent pass rate on the South Carolina bar examination and a 14 percent attrition rate during the 1L year. Tuition is $37,774 and 60 percent of its 2012 graduates had landed jobs that require bar passage nine month out.
That job placement rate outdistanced the 48 percent rate at Florida Coastal; 52 percent at Charlotte; and 54 percent at Phoenix.
InfiLaw, owned by private equity firm Sterling Partners, has had a turbulent several months. On May 31, two former tenured professors at its Phoenix school sued InfiLaw, claiming they were unjustly fired and that the school had implemented policies that hurt students to maximize profits. Faculty members who opposed the changes—including a delay in the release of the transcripts for students hoping to transfer to a different law school—were threatened and expelled, they claimed.
Just days later, InfiLaw publicly confirmed that its plans for a new 1,300-student law school in Arlington, Va., had fallen through.
In early July, Florida Coastal announced that it was laying off a dozen staffers as a result of declining enrollment. The school said it had about 1,300 students, down from 1,753 in 2012, according to ABA data. This year, the Jacksonville, Fla., school established a program under which students who flunk out after their first year or do not pass the bar exam will be reimbursed part of their tuition. The school had a 25 percent 1L attrition rate in 2012.
Last week, University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos reported on his blog that Florida Coastal had fired as many as 20 percent of its faculty, citing tips from several ousted professors who wished to remain anonymous.
Newly installed Florida Coastal dean Chidi Ogene denied firing faculty in an interview with The National Law Journal. He did acknowledge that the size of the faculty had declined, although he said he would not say how many faculty members had gone and that discussions with some professors were continuing.
The departures were the result of faculty retiring or “expressing an interest in taking on other roles,” Ogene said. He declined to offer specifics, citing privacy rules.
InfiLaw announced in June that it had hired Kenneth Randall, the longtime dean of the University of Alabama School of Law, who is widely credited with raising that school’s profile and its U.S. News & World Report ranking. (It’s ranked No. 21, up eight spots from the previous year.) Randall had been at Alabama for two decades; now he is executive officer of subsidiary InfiLaw Ventures.
Randall told Drexel law professor and The Faculty Lounge blogger Dan Filler that InfiLaw Ventures would create hybrid legal education models that combine in-person and online learning, and would develop programs for people in law-related jobs that don’t require a license to practice.
“The InfiLaw System offered a special opportunity, supporting me to lead a new venture, InfiLaw Ventures, both to create new content, and to deliver existing content in ways that expand markets and serve student learners who otherwise might be left out of education,” Randall said.