First-year enrollment in the Charleston School of Law fell only slightly this school year despite uncertainty about its ownership and finances.
About 170 first-year students enrolled for the school year that began Monday, compared to 177 last year, Andy Abrams, the private law school's dean and president, said on the first day of classes Monday. However, Abrams did not know if overall enrollment, which was at 542 students last fall, had held steady as well. Total enrollment figures won't be available until next week, he said.
The school has been buffeted by controversy for almost a year, beginning with the announcement that the for-profit InfiLaw System was working on buying the decade-old school. Students, alumni, faculty and members of the state's legal community have criticized the proposed sale, saying InfiLaw's three law schools have lower standards, diminishing the value of a Charleston School of Law degree.
In June, InfiLaw abruptly withdrew its application before the state's Commission on Higher Education for an operating license it would need if it bought the law school. Company representatives said then they were bowing to a request by state Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, and planned to re-apply in the future.(Editor's note: Earlier versions of this story incorrectly identified the state legislator who made this request).
No application has been resubmitted and the law school remains under the ownership of Robert Carr, George Kosko and Ed Westbrook, three of the five founders who launched the school in 2004.
"Everybody would like a final answer on (ownership)," Abrams said, "but it doesn't change the school or the faculty."
Annah Woodward, a third-year student and president of the Student Bar Association, said Westbrook last month made another pitch to Carr and Kosko to convert the school to a nonprofit organization instead of selling to InfiLaw.
Westbrook is opposed to the sale to InfiLaw, but was outvoted by Carr and Kosko. Neither Westbrook nor Columbia lawyer Kevin Hall, who represents InfiLaw, also didn't respond to calls Monday for comment.
Woodward said she and many other students think becoming a nonprofit organization is the best path forward for the school. "It's been pretty quiet lately," she said. "Let's hope the quiet gives them the opportunity to accept (Westbrook's) proposal."
Although no new application is pending, Abrams said he has been told to move forward with a petition to the American Bar Association to allow the transfer of ownership to InfiLaw. A bar association committee is expected to vote on petition in December.
Abrams said school leaders continue to make improvements to the legal education the school offers - expanding the curriculum and putting more emphasis on practical skills.
That's important because legal education has changed since the Great Recession, Abrams has said. Law firms have fewer resources and aren't willing to train lawyers the way they did in years past. So law school graduates must be more practice-ready.
The school also is working to enhance its bar exam pass rate, he said. To do that, it will offer practice test sessions at the end of each semester called "mini-bars," he said. "We're trying to provide the kind of legal education we wish we would have gotten."
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.
Thousands of law books line the shelves inside the law library at the Charleston School of Law Monday. Students have started a new school year and begun studying despite uncertainty about who ultimately will own and operate the school.×