Goodbye Phoenix School of Law; hello Arizona Summit Law School. Arizona’s only private law school has changed its name, effective immediately.
“The new name highlights our commitment to the success of our students who come from diverse backgrounds and stages in life and provides a supportive academic environment where civic-minded leaders and community advocates are nurtured,” Dean Shirley Mays said.
The change is accompanied by a new website, logo and advertising campaign.
The move comes at a challenging time for the downtown Phoenix law school, one of Infilaw Holding LLC’s consortium of for-profit schools. The school enrolled just 197 new students this fall, down from the 380 1Ls who began at this time last year. That represents a 48 percent decline, a steeper drop-off than most law schools saw this year.
Arizona Summit president Scott Thompson attributed the decline in part to the school’s refusal to lower its standards for Law School Admission Test scores and undergraduate grade point averages just to bring in a larger cohort of students.
The school reported a 8 percent attrition rate among 1Ls last year and 35 percent attrition among 2Ls, many of whom transferred to other law schools following their first year.
Attempts by the school to retain students for all three years featured prominently in a lawsuit filed in June by two former tenured professors who allege that they were unlawfully dismissed because they opposed new policies including a reordering of first-year courses to make it more difficult for students to transfer. Plaintiffs Michael O’Connor and Celia Rumann also alleged they were punished for objecting to the planned rebranding.
Arizona Summit has asked a federal district judge to dismiss the case for failure to state a valid claim. Rather than tireless advocates for students, O’Connor and Rumann were troublemakers, the school alleges.
“Plaintiffs were adamantly opposed to any and all changes that the School sought impose, regardless of the merits of the changes, and were lightning quick to attribute nefarious motives to anyone seeking to implement change of with viewpoints with which they disagreed,” the school’s motion to dismiss reads.
A hearing was held on the motion in September, but the judge has yet to rule.
In a few years, Arizona Summit will face increased local competition for students. The Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, now located in suburban Tempe, plans to move into a new, $130 million building is downtown Phoenix in 2016. The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law operates in Tucson.
Thompson distinguished Arizona Summit from its public competitors, neither of which offers part-time or night programs. Students in these programs comprise 34 percent of Arizona Summit’s student body, and 45 percent of its students are minorities, he said. Its student body scales older, too, with an average age of 29 years. Many come from less-privileged backgrounds or face family or academic hurdles, he added.
“ ‘Summit’ reflects the type of students we have at the school,” he said. “It’s not always a straight, direct trip up the mountain. Often, you have to take some turns to get there.”
The school revamped its curriculum this year to emphasize practical skills, Thompson said. Administrators began discussing a name change about 1 1/2 years ago, he added, and applied for the trademark in April.
The Phoenix School of Law opened in 2005 and secured full ABA accreditation in 2010. It’s not unheard of for law schools to change their names, but those changes typically are the result of a major donation. For example, Chapman University School of Law became the Dale E. Fowler School of Law in August after the Orange County, Calif., developer donated $55 million.
New names can also reflect new academic affiliations. The Thomas M. Cooley Law School officially became the Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School in September after entering into a partnership with that public university.