We congratulate our students who graduate Sunday and wish them the very best as they prepare for the bar exam and join a proud and honorable profession.
In 2003, we and three other members of the South Carolina bench and bar joined together to create the Charleston School of Law. The school's commitment today is, as it was in 2003, to the students, faculty and staff. Likewise, the school's goal remains to provide our students a careful and refined study program teaching the practice of law as a profession, having as its chief aim providing public service.
The good news is that the Charleston School of Law has succeeded beyond our expectations. The school has earned a well-deserved reputation for its excellent faculty and for a strong, community-focused student body.
However at the 10-year mark, the school is at a crossroads.
Like law schools across the country, from the Ivy League to the independents, our school is facing challenges. The causes are many but include declining enrollment, a downturn in the economy, a rapidly changing legal environment, and a reconsideration of the traditional law-firm model. It is estimated that there will be another large drop in the number of applications to law schools nationwide this year and that 80 percent of law schools are experiencing operating deficits.
In this environment, it is critical that our school continue to effectively compete for top-caliber students through scholarships and provide all of our students with the faculty, programming, technology and facilities required for a 21st century legal education. While in 2012 the school was facing primarily the desired retirement of four of its five founders, it is clear with additional challenges today that the school needs a plan to ensure its continued financial viability and to invest for the future. The status quo is not a realistic option.
Over the last several years, we and our co-founders looked for potential owners who had the experience to gain American Bar Association accreditation and the resources to purchase and operate the law school while investing in its future. We found that:
No public institution could even talk about an acquisition. Although those facts have changed and conversations are happening with the College of Charleston, any combination with the college would likely require substantial taxpayer funds. The political climate in Columbia is clear: There is little to no interest in public funding to purchase, own and operate a second public law school;
The hurdles to becoming a non-profit are problematic;
No new ownership groups were identified that had the necessary experience and financial resources to meet ABA and other regulatory standards to own, operate and invest in the school's technology, infrastructure and academic needs; and,
No private South Carolina institution was willing to take on the challenges of running the school.
In contrast, InfiLaw has the experience and resources to successfully own, operate and invest in our school's future.
InfiLaw is attracted to the Charleston School of Law for the same reasons as students and faculty - the school offers a high-quality education, is dedicated to student-centered outcomes and has a close relationship with the community. InfiLaw schools are independent and make their own academic, faculty and admissions decisions. As a result, the community mission and culture of the Charleston School of Law will be preserved.
InfiLaw is a consortium of three ABA accredited law schools, all of which are comparable to Charleston in bar passage, costs and job placement rates. InfiLaw also has a commitment and track record of successfully educating those who are underrepresented in the legal profession. In addition, the legal profession demands graduates who are more ready to practice right out of school. Schools that have a clinic program where students learn to provide legal services under the supervision of lawyers have an experiential resource in addition to the internship and externship programs offered in Charleston. InfiLaw schools are well known for their clinics.
Finally, InfiLaw schools have won national recognition for their innovation, diversity, use of technology, facilities and Moot Court prowess.
Just as importantly, through the years and particularly in the past months, InfiLaw has proven to be a loyal and faithful partner. It has demonstrated a commitment to this transaction and has dedicated time, talent and resources to its success and the future of the Charleston School of Law.
As we consider the future of the Charleston School of Law, we must be hopeful yet realistic. New ownership is needed and it must have the resources to own, operate and invest in our school in an uncertain time. We have carefully examined all alternatives and we have listened to the community, especially our students.
At the end of the day, a sale of the school to InfiLaw - an organization that has proven to the American Bar Association that it can successfully operate law schools - is the best way to preserve the tradition and culture of the Charleston School of Law as well as securing the sustainable future our students and alumni deserve.
Robert S. Carr and George C. Kosko are founders of the Charleston School of Law and are retired U.S. magistrate judges, District of South Carolina.