Law school did quite well before news of plan to sell

Students file through the hallways on the first day of classes at the Charleston School of Law Monday August 18, 2014. (Grace Beahm/Staff)

A damaging myth is distorting the debate over the future of the Charleston School of Law — the notion that the school was in decline even before the owners announced their planned sale to Infi-Law in July 2013.

That myth was stated as fact in a recent op-ed by the head of InfiLaw, and has been suggested in other reporting, but it is not true.

The true facts are shown by official figures for applications, enrollment and other data that the Charleston School of Law and every other law school in the country must report to the American Bar Association every year. These official figures are public and can be found by anyone on the ABA website and on the website of each law school.

These figures show clearly that Charleston School of Law was thriving at the time the proposed sale was announced. Yes, law school admissions and enrollment have been declining across the country for several years, but the Charleston School of Law was bucking that trend.

In 2010-11 and 2011-12, while total applications to law schools nationwide were dropping by double-digit percentages (11.4 percent and 12.3 percent), applications to the Charleston school were increasing, also by double-digit percentages (15.7 percent and 11.0 percent). Even in 2012-13, the last year before the announced sale, when Charleston School of Law did see a small decrease, it was a tiny drop (4.9 percent) compared to the huge nationwide fall (17.8 percent).

These application figures were also mirrored by enrollment figures, which went up in Charleston in every one of those years, again contrary to the shrinking law school enrollment numbers nationwide.

Nor was this growth achieved by relaxing any standards. On the contrary, the median scores on the Law School Admission Test for students admitted to the Charleston law school actually went up in those three years — as did the percentage of graduating Charleston students passing the South Carolina Bar, which went up above the magic three-quarter mark.

It is true that applications and enrollment at Charleston are now down very sharply, but that has all come in the past two years since the sale announcement.

So don’t let anyone say that Charleston School of Law was already in trouble.

That is a disservice to talented faculty and students who were building a fine law school with a growing reputation — a reputation that was getting an enthusiastic response from an otherwise-dwindling national student marketplace.

Those are the facts, and any debate over the school’s future ought to be informed by fact, not myth.

Although the school’s outlook seems dismal now, the strengths that were building it are still there, including a dedicated faculty and staff, and an attractive city that welcomed and still wants a quality law school.

If a “new broom” can come in who merits the trust of participants and the community, there should still be time and opportunity to save the school and put it back on its former upward track.

Armand Derfner of Charleston is a civil rights attorney.