The Charleston School of Law has always been special. From its inception, the school’s greatest draws have been its commitment to public service and its tight connection to Charleston’s legal community. This was the vision of the Founders — Robert Carr, George Kosko, Ralph McCullough, Alex Sanders, and Ed Westbrook — as they sought to create a new model for legal education that is based on hands-on practice and professionalism.
Since the doors opened in 2003, our students have given more than 200,000 hours in pro bono legal services to our community. Our graduates serve as law clerks to federal and state judges, as attorneys at the Department of Justice, as prosecutors and public defenders, as members of ABA-100 law firms, and as traditional “Broad Street lawyers.”
Our students routinely win national moot court competitions, and the school offers one of just three Masters of Maritime Law programs in the United States.
In one short decade, we have gone from nothing to something.
But getting here took more than a vision. It required the investment of lawyers and judges in Charleston and across South Carolina, who took a leap of faith to help train and hire CSOL students. It required the investment of faculty who left more established schools to teach here, and the investment of those students — and there are many — who could have attended more respected schools, but who believed in this school’s mission and in the promise of what it could hold for South Carolina.
Now we fear that promise is in peril. As the remaining founders, led by former Magistrate Judge Kosko and retired Magistrate Judge Carr, bring in InfliLaw Systems Inc., a national chain of law schools, under a “management services” or “consulting” agreement, the Charleston School of Law Alumni Board is profoundly concerned about ensuring the school’s success and good reputation into the future.
We are watching, and we will fight any changes that would diminish the quality of education or the value of our degrees. During a meeting with the Alumni Board this week, as during a recent meeting with students, Judge Kosko and Judge Carr suggested an agreement with InfiLaw is their only option in a rapidly changing market for legal education. We disagree with that premise. They also have suggested that no agreement to sell the school is on the table — for now — and we take them at their word. The Alumni Board invites the legal community, state legislators, the public, and the city of Charleston to join with us as we push to ensure CSOL explores all options for future management, ownership, and protection of what makes our school unique.
Further, the school is subject to state and American Bar Association oversight, and we will encourage those authorities to dig deep into whether any proposed changes will be good for current students, for legal education, and the profession of law in South Carolina.
Since news of a possible sale to InfiLaw, there has been much discussion about alternatives, including a potential acquisition by the College of Charleston, or the creation of a non-profit foundation to purchase and run the school. We would welcome the chance to participate in such talks.
Frankly, the school is making it difficult for us to help explore other options by refusing to share a copy of the management services agreement or any purchase options with InfiLaw. This is a matter affecting current students, potential students, and the public.
Alumni, students, and many members of the CSOL Advisory Board — a group of respected jurists and attorneys statewide — were told nothing of the plan prior to its announcement.
Faculty we have spoken with were similarly shocked, and even top members of the school administration have acknowledged to us they had no idea this monumental change was coming.
We understand the law school is private, and that one level its owners can do with it as they wish. Everything has its price.
But having actively sought— and received — the investment of the legal community, the City of Charleston, the students, the alumni, and the faculty, the owners created an obligation to all who have helped make the Charleston School of Law flourish.
Having asked so many to help build this institution, they cannot equitably shut us out.
John E. Robinson is president of the Charleston School of Law Alumni Board and a practicing attorney in Charleston.