Charleston School of Law sale to InfiLaw moves forward

Charleston School of Law founders will move ahead with plans to sell the school to the for-profit InfiLaw System, despite opposition from students, alumni and members of the state's legal community.

In an op-ed on today's Commentary page, retired U.S. magistrate judges George C. Kosko and Robert S. Carr, two the three members of the school's board, said they and InfiLaw representatives considered other options for the school's future. But none were viable.

A sale to InfiLaw "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," the article stated.

Those who oppose a sale to InfiLaw, which owns three other for-profit law schools, have said the move could diminish the value of a Charleston School of Law degree because InfiLaw schools are considered by some to be "diploma mills."

The state's Commission on Higher Education in the fall lifted a prohibition in the law school's license and allowed law school leaders to discuss a possible sale of the private law school to the public College of Charleston. InfiLaw representatives, who have a binding contract to purchase the law school, held meetings with college officials. But it remains unclear what was discussed at them.

Kosko and Carr stated in their letter that although 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 op-ed stated.

Peter Goplerud, president of InfiLaw Management Solutions, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Mike Robertson, spokesman for the College of Charleston, said college leaders have a confidentiality agreement and can't discuss the details of those meetings. But, he said, representatives from the college and InfiLaw continue to meet, and the college still is interested in the possibility of acquiring the law school.

Daniel Cooper, president of the Student Bar Association, said the news that Kosko and Carr were moving ahead with the sale to InfiLaw was disappointing. He said he and others had hoped that there would be open discussions on the future of the law school among everyone who had a stake in it. But that didn't happen. "InfiLaw took it upon themselves to meet with the college," Cooper said.

It appears law school founders and InfiLaw representatives didn't try very hard to find other solutions, Cooper said. "There's an aura of distrust."

Students are "going to be in debt hundreds of thousands of dollars" for their legal educations, Cooper said. "We would like a say."

Although the law school is private and is legally just a business, Cooper said, "a lot of people have a stake in that school."

InfiLaw previously has applied for a license from the Commission on Higher Education. Private schools need to obtain that license before they can operate in South Carolina.

Julie Carullo, spokeswoman for the commission, said staffers currently are working on internal review of InfiLaw's application. And an external review team comprised of people with law school expertise also is completing a report that commissioners will consider when they decide whether to issue InfiLaw an operating license.

The commission in early January will post a schedule on the next steps in the process. Those steps will include a public hearing, Carullo said.

The commission's Academic Affairs and Licensing Committee must review all of the material, she said. Then the full commission must vote on the matter. That won't happen until May at the earliest, she said.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.

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