Law Schools

I Bet You Thought Going To Charleston Law Was Already Rock Bottom

I imagine that students of the Charleston School of Law woke up this morning feeling a bit like exotic dancers who just found out that their strip joint was being sold to a whorehouse.

Charleston School of Law (CSOL) was already a pretty weak law school, charging $38,000 a year despite being unranked by U.S. News. Its employment stats and bar passage rates are often embarrassing. It’s “accredited” by the ABA because, well, the ABA will rubber-stamp institutions like this.

But yesterday the school announced that it was entering a “management services agreement” with a for-profit company, Infilaw Inc. Infilaw has not covered itself in glory. It owns Charlotte School of Law, Florida Coastal School of Law, and Phoenix School of Law. So to call Infilaw a “diploma mill” is being exceedingly kind to Infilaw.

It’s a bad situation. The news is “rocking the Charleston legal scene,” as one tipster told us, and many students and professors are upset. But the story of one student who was set to matriculate at CSOL this fall sort of illustrates how the kinds of students who go to CSOL are resistant to the market information, thus making a company like Infilaw possible…

People assume that this “management services agreement” is just the first step in a full sale of the school to the for-profit entity. From the Charleston Post and Courier:

According to the release, the “alliance” with InfiLaw would give the school “access to pioneering programs and tools that will help it continue to provide students with excellence in teaching, strong faculty relationships, as well as opportunities for public service and community involvement.” Alex Sanders, one of the founders of the school, said that as of two days ago he no longer is chairman of the board, a member of its board or a co-owner of the school.

He doesn’t know specifically what is happening there or whether the school ultimately will be sold. But, he said, “to sell a law school is a complicated thing. It could take months or years. It’s not like selling a loaf of bread.”

The Infilaw press release makes other, wild claims about how this will help CSOL students. They claim that CSOL grads will now have access to the Infilaw network, which will somehow magically lead to additional job opportunities outside of South Carolina. Yeah right, because people at Charlotte Law are just flush with job offers and would love for Charleston Law students to come up to North Carolina and take some jobs off their hands.

But students who attend CSOL just might be the kind of people to believe these press release platitudes without doing any critical thinking or research into the actual market for legal services. The Post and Courier has a story of a would-be Charleston 1L, and… it’s just sad:

[Kelly] Barnes is moving to Charleston from Daytona Beach, Fla., today to attend the school. “I’m on pins and needles,” she said after hearing that the school might be sold.

She liked the school when she came for an interview. “They stressed that they were a smaller school that helped students,” she said. “I got a good feeling.”

Her final decision to attend was sealed when the school, with about 600 students, offered her a $10,000 scholarship. Tuition for the 2013-14 school year is about $38,000…

Barnes is married and has two children. “Moving to Charleston is a huge deal to us.”

“I wash my hands of your demolition. Die if you want to, you innocent puppet.” — Pontius “Elie” Pilate.

What can you say to a person who is moving her whole family to Charleston to attend CSOL because they offered $10K off and she “got a good feeling”? There is no universe in which that was a smart decision before the school sold out to a for-profit company.

Speaking of Infilaw, remember when we talked about former Alabama Law Dean Kenneth Randall abruptly retiring? This is where he ended up. This is from an email Randall sent to Faculty Lounge:

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….We will joint venture with schools nationally and internationally. I’ve been involved in traditional legal education. But the ABA rules on distance education need updating. We need the accreditors and educators and innovators coming together to meet the new realities of legal education.

Notice how he said “left out of education.” He didn’t say “left out of the legal job market,” because professors and deans are not obligated to care about what happens to people like Kelly Barnes after they uproot their entire families, move to South Carolina, graduate with tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and have no jobs. Infilaw gets the profit, students get the costs. That’s the “new reality” of legal education.

And, as far as I can see, nobody can stop them. The regulators won’t act to protect students. The market is imperfect, thanks in part to the easy availability of taxpayer-funded loans. And the students can’t or won’t act in their own economic self-interest.

So, somehow, the lot of Charleston School of Law students just got worse. I don’t even know how that’s possible.

Charleston School of Law enters into management services agreement; is sale next? [Charleston Post and Courier]
Alabama’s Dean Ken Randall To InfiLaw, And Other Reflections [Faculty Lounge]

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