As one of the five founders of the Charleston School of Law, and one of the three directors when the InfiLaw arrangement was made, I have been urged by numerous people to clarify certain matters that have been reported imprecisely about the situation.
CSOL has many concerned students, faculty, alumni, community advisors and a wonderful staff who are entitled to clarity. I feel an obligation to provide that clarity to them and to the legal community which has supported CSOL for the past 10 years.
Important decisions impacting CSOL, our students, and alumni are being made, and the process has not been as inclusive or transparent as it should have been.
From the numerous calls and other contacts I have received, and the broad language in some media reports, it is apparent that many do not realize that I was the one director who voted against any InfiLaw arrangement. I was outvoted by the other two directors (former judges George C. Kosko and Robert S. Carr) who now effectively control the school through their two-person majority.
My disagreement was not over the need for an ownership succession plan. With two of the five founders in their mid-to-late 70s, and two in their mid-to-late 60s, our mortality mandated that we plan for our inevitable departure.
Rather, I differed from my colleagues in the manner of succession, believing that a gradual replacement of departing members by other South Carolina legal community leaders to be preferable to a wholesale turnover of the school to an out-of-state corporate interest.
Toward that end, I made several proposals aimed at keeping ownership of the school in our legal community’s hands. They were rejected.
My disagreement with my fellow directors is not specific to InfiLaw, though others have raised questions about the operation and reputation of its other law schools.
Rather, I have a broad objection to the concept of selling CSOL to a large corporate interest, as opposed to transferring ownership gradually to other community leaders or an eleemosynary institution.
A law school’s reputation is its most precious asset. You cannot sell a reputation. It must be earned, as it has been by CSOL over the past decade. I have watched with dismay as that reputation has been called into question by the specter of an InfiLaw purchase.
If my view had held sway, CSOL would have remained in local hands with the possibility of eventual conversion to a non-profit institution. The current course offers no prospect of that.
Only time will tell if my view, or the view of the other two directors, is best for the school. But as the discussion continues, those asking questions deserve full and complete answers, and all alternatives should be explored.
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter reminded us 65 years ago that, “Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.”
My two fellow directors, as proponents of the InfiLaw transaction, are entitled to take credit for it where credit is due, and should provide complete explanations about it when questions are asked.
Our students, faculty, staff, and the legal community deserve no less.
Edward J. Westbrook
Founder, Charleston School of Law