Charleston School of Law
|Charleston School of Law|
The Charleston School of Law's library is housed in an antebellum building at 81 Mary Street.
|Motto||Pro bono populi
"For the good of the people"
|Established||May 12, 2003|
|School type||for-profit law school|
|Dean||Andrew "Andy" L. Abrams|
|Location||Charleston, South Carolina, United States
The Charleston School of Law (CSOL) is a for-profit law school located in Charleston, South Carolina, established in 2003. The school was fully accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) in August 2011. The school was founded upon a principle of promoting public service by its students and graduates; each student must perform at least 30 hours of public service before graduation. According to Charleston School of Law's 2013 ABA-required disclosures, 53.33% of the Class of 2013 obtained full-time, long-term, JD-required employment nine months after graduation.
- 1 History
- 2 Costs, post-graduation information and student debt
- 3 Admissions
- 4 South Carolina bar-exam passage
- 5 Student body
- 6 Other information
- 7 Facilities
- 8 Publications
- 9 Notable alumni
- 10 References
- 11 External links
Inspiration and establishment
In 2002, five Charleston judges and attorneys started to work on establishing a law school in Charleston. The school would be the first organized effort to offer instruction in the law in Charleston since the 1828 dissolution of the Forensic Club. The five founders were Alex Sanders (a former president of the College of Charleston and a former Chief Judge of the South Carolina Court of Appeals); Edward J. Westbrook (a lawyer in Charleston); the Robert Carr (a U.S. magistrate judge); George Kosko (a U.S. magistrate judge until 2008); and Ralph McCullough (a professor emeritus and former associate dean at the University of South Carolina Law School). The five founders created a limited liability company through which to operate the law school, and its creation was approved by the South Carolina Secretary of State on May 12, 2003. In 2004, the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education granted a license to allow the school to start accepting students in Fall 2004.
In October 2005, the American Bar Association (ABA) sent an accreditation team to review the progress of the law school toward accreditation. In April 2006, the ABA's Accreditation Committee recommended provisional accreditation, but its final authority (the ABA's Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar) deferred a vote on the committee's recommendation until December 2006. The school was asked to address questions related to the institution's governance, library resources, and commitment to diversity.
The deferral caused concern for the school: In South Carolina, only graduates of ABA-accredited law schools may sit for the bar exam. Although students graduating from a provisionally accredited law school enjoy the full rights guaranteed to those graduating from fully accredited schools, including the right to sit for the bar exam, the delay until December 2006 was a problem since the deadline for registering for the bar exam was January 2007.
Nevertheless, on December 2, 2006, the ABA granted CSOL provisional accreditation, the highest level of accreditation available at that time. Full accreditation cannot be granted until a school has been in operation for five years.
On August 5, 2011, the ABA granted the school full accreditation.
School's first graduation
On May 19, 2007, the school's first class of 186 students graduated at a ceremony held at The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina, also located in Charleston. Former U.S. Senator Ernest "Fritz" Hollings delivered the main address. Jean H. Toal, Chief Justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court; and the William Walter Wilkins, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit received LL.D. honorary degrees.
With the blessing of the descendants of the organizers of the original Forensic Club, the school organized an honorary society also known as the Forensic Club. In its current form, up to five students are inducted into the group each year from the graduating class based on the recommendation of the faculty and approval by the founders. The first four inductees were Cameron Blazer, M. Brooks Derrick, Charles Marchbanks and Jeff Yungman.
Change of ownership
On July 25, 2013, the school announced that it had entered a consulting/management contract with a subsidiary of InfiLaw, a Delaware Corporation with headquarters in Naples, Florida, which owns three other schools. Two of the school's founders, Sanders and McCullough, were paid by InfiLaw and left the board when the arrangement with InfiLaw was announced. This announcement was seen as a prelude to a sale of the school and was immediately opposed by students. Formal announcement of a sale of the school was made on August 28, 2013, but documents submitted to the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education (CHE) revealed that an agreement had been executed between the law school and InfiLaw on July 23, 2013. The students and alumni of the law school were opposed to the sale for reasons including the perceived poor reputation of InfiLaw schools. In the weeks after the announcement of the possible takeover, 41 students transferred, a 64% increase in transfers from previous years. Still first year student enrollment in the fall of 2013 exceeded the enrollment for 2012. See Admissions information below.
On September 27, 2013, one of the three remaining founders, Westbrook, wrote to the other two remaining founders and outlined three proposals for avoiding the sale to InfiLaw: a cooling off period, the redemption of the interests of Kosko and Carr by the law school, and the exploration of a merger with the College of Charleston. Westbook stated that he would donate his own one-third interest to the College of Charleston if the third option were accepted. On October 2, 2013, Carr and Kosko rejected the offer made by Westbrook, claiming that no offers had been submitted; instead, they announced that they were proceeding with pursuing a sale to InfiLaw.
On October 3, 2013, the CHE met in Charleston and agreed to waive a condition of the law school's license to permit the exploration of a possible merger between the law school and the College of Charleston or other public school; the waiver of that prohibition was granted for 90 days. On October 14, 2013, InfiLaw released a statement in which it claimed to be willing to consider discussions with either the College of Charleston or the University of South Carolina about the future ownership of the school; no details of minimum expectations or deadlines were given. The College of Charleston's immediate response to a newspaper reporter's inquiry was that the college had not seen the letter and had no comment. Representatives of the College of Charleston and InfiLaw met in late October 2013 to discuss proprietary information, but no other information about the meeting, including its attendees and agenda, has been released. In a survey completed almost exclusively by current students and released in early November 2013, only 0.55% of respondents supported the sale of the school to Infilaw.
The CHE assembled a team to investigate the possible transfer and accepted written (or recorded) statements about the transfer through February 10, 2014. Among those opposing the deal were tenured professors Jerry Finkel and Randall Bridwell who wrote about concerns about bar passage rates and class sizes. Also on February 10, 2014, the CHE disclosed a statement submitted by Charleston mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. on December 16, 2013, which opposed the InfiLaw deal. Among the mayor's reasons was a real estate agreement from 2004; the city had purchased property on Woolfe St. for $1.2 million and sold it to the new law school for $875,000 to help it establish itself. He explained, "Certainly the city of Charleston would not have done this with any thought that eventually the Charleston School of Law would become part of a national, for-profit system of law school."
The CHE's Academic Affairs and Licensing Committee scheduled its meeting to vote on the InfiLaw proposal on May 1, 2014 at 9:00 a.m. The full CHE announced that it would take up the committee's vote immediately afterward at 10:30 a.m. Instead of taking up the issue, a panel of the CHE announced on May 1, 2014, that it would hold two more public meetings before considering the matter on May 19, 2014; the full CHE would then hear the panel's recommendation at a meeting on June 5, 2014. On May 13, 2014, a supermajority of the school's faculty publicly released two letters opposing the InfiLaw deal.
The first public hearing on the takeover was held in Charleston on May 16, 2014, from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Representatives of Inifilaw were "greatly outnumbered" by those opposing the license. Opponents included faculty, alumni, and students. Riley also opposed the license. One of the founders, Westbrook, offered to continue his funding of the school in the event of a denial of Infilaw's license. A recording of the session was posted by the CHE. A second public hearing was held on May 19, 2014, in Columbia, South Carolina. Speakers expressed concerns about InfiLaw's practice of accepting students who incur large debt but do not graduate and bar a bar exam. During the second hearing, the lawyer for Infilaw revealed that the founders of the school had taken $25 million in profits between 2010 and 2014 and that InfiLaw had paid $6 million more to some of the founders. Founder Carr said, ". . . I never thought it was going to be a big business deal. I was wrong." Westbrook later revealed that Carr and Kosko had not only been draining profits from the business for several years over his objections, but they had also depleted the finances of the school by signing an expensive consulting contract with InfiLaw and by then having to hire a marketing firm to manage the public relations crisis their decisions had caused.
The CHE's Committee on Academic Affairs and Licensing voted 3-1 to reject the license to buy the school at its meeting on May 19, 2014. The vote was then set to be taken up by the full CHE at its meeting on June 5, 2014.
On May 27, 2014, a lawyer representing InfiLaw threatened the law school, stating that InfiLaw would seek to have the $6,000,000 used to buy out the interests of McCullough and Sanders repaid immediately if negative publicity did not stop. The letter stated that the purchase agreement between the Charleston School of Law and InfiLaw prohibited any of the founders from doing anything to interfere with the takeover, including speaking out on behalf of the students, alumni, and faculty at public hearings. InfiLaw deemed the opposition of founder Westbrook a violation of the term and demanded that he cease all such behavior. If not, InfiLaw's lawyer reported that InfiLaw would have no choice but to call the note and seize all the collateral needed to repay the money. InfiLaw's lawyer noted that "[s]uch an action would have dire consequences, not only for the Charleston School of Law, but for its students, faculty, staff and othe constituencies."
Shortly before the CHE was scheduled to meet, the South Carolina Attorney General's office issued an advisory opinion confirming that the CHE would need to follow the law and either deny or grant a license based on whether InfiLaw satisfied the requirements of the licensing law. On the afternoon of June 4, 2014, InfiLaw withdrew its request from the agenda of the CHE for its June 5, 2014 meeting. A state senator, John Courson, had apparently initiated the delay to give the CHE more time to consider the matter. After the surprise delay, opponents suggested that the delay was sought to avoid what InfiLaw saw as a likely defeat. In a prepared statement, InfiLaw stated that it would still pursue the license. Soon after the withdrawal of the application for a license, opponents of InfiLaw's takeover, including official representatives of both the current students and alumni, began calling for the creation of a non-profit to run the school instead. On June 14, 2014, the local newspaper, the Charleston Post & Courier, published its editorial favoring that outcome.
By the start of the Fall 2014 term in August 2014, no new application for the transfer of the license to InfiLaw had been filed with the CHE, but the school's dean said that he had been told to continue with the parallel process of obtaining American Bar Association approval. Meanwhile, a nonprofit was created as of August 7, 2014, in South Carolina known as the Charleston School of Law Eleemosynary. On September 18, 2014, Ed Westbook announced the make-up of the first board of directors for the non-profit; members included representatives of the local bar, the South Carolina judiciary, and law school administrators with national experience. On September 22, 2014, the Charleston Post & Courier's editorial board endorsed the non-profit for the school while recognizing that InfiLaw had shown no signs of changing its course.
A delegation presented the case for the transfer to a committee of the ABA on October 30, 2014, at an ABA meeting in San Antonio, Texas. Owners Carr and Kosko used their majority vote to send only Dean Abrams on behalf of the school and not to permit dissenting owner Westbrook a chance to speak at the ABA meeting. Following the meeting in San Antonio, the ABA said that the committee's decision would be taken up by the association's full Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar on December 6, 2014, and declined to comment about the October 30, 2014 decision.
On November 13, 2014, the three members of the school voted to hire Maryann Jones as the business's new president, replacing Dean Andy Abrams, who had been serving simultaneously as the dean and the president of the business since the retirement of McCullough. After only eight days on the job, Ms. Jones gave notice that she would not continue in the position, citing the disharmony about the future of the school: "The level of vitriol, with all sides making me a lightning rod for an unfortunate situation that was not of my making, makes this truly a situation that I am unwilling at this stage of my life to undertake." After having agreed to serve as an objective party in the dispute, Ms. Jones had begun immediately pressuring constituencies to support the sale of the school to InfiLaw (for whom she had been working before taking the job). When Mr. Westbrook objected to her taking a position without first familiarizing herself with the positions of the interested parties, Ms. Jones resigned.
The ABA's Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar met during an ABA meeting held in Puerto Rico on December 6, 2014, and deferred action on InfiLaw's request for its acquiescence to the takeover of the Charleston School of Law until the state regulators in South Carolina had made their own decision. Infilaw began a campaign of lobbying members of the South Carolina legislature to influence the selection of CHE members.
On December 15, 2014, both Westbrook and InfiLaw's representative, Peter Gopelrud, addressed a meeting of the Charleston County legislative delegation (i.e., the members of the South Carolina Senate and South Carolina House of Representatives whose districts include parts of Charleston County) during one of its regular meetings held in McClellanville, South Carolina. When questioned by the delegation, Gopelrud admitted that InfiLaw had hired a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives, Jim Merrill, to assist it. (On December 14, 2016, Merrill was indicted for attempting "to influence a governmental decision" in exchange for $35,000 from Infilaw.) Following the presentations, the delegation adopted a resolution favoring Westbrook's non-profit model by a vote of 10-0 (with three members abstaining).
In mid- March 2015, the law school offered a buy-out of existing faculty members to reduce its operating costs. In March 2015, the school's first dean, Richard Gershon, wrote a blog post in which he charged that the two of the three remaining founders favoring InfiLaw's takeover, Carr and Kosko, were motivated by greed; they had never contributed money to the operation of the school at its start and had any personal, financial responsibility for the school discharged after only two years. A spokesman responded that the statements were inaccurate.
On March 24, 2015, Westbrook gave notice that he was resigning as a director of the LLC that owns the school. He will either donate his ownership interest to a charity or sell that interest and donate the proceeds to charity. He stated that he would be willing to sell his interest to the remaining owners of the LLC.
On May 6, 2015, the two remaining owners, Carr and Kosko, released a prepared statement in which they said the school might not accept new students for the 2015-2016 entering class. According to the announcement, the owners are making plans to conduct a "teach out," a sort of unwinding of the school by continuing to educate those students who are already enrolled but not accepting new students. Two other schools, likely InfiLaw schools in North Carolina and Florida, have been contacted about absorbing the current students. On May 6, 2015, Carr and Kosko held a meeting with the school's faculty and staff in the newly vacated second floor of the school's Meeting Street location. Carr explained that the school would be consolidating its operations in the building by taking over the second floor. At the end of the remarks, Carr added that the burden of keeping the school afloat was on the shoulders of the faculty and staff. He implored the attendees to contact InfiLaw's representatives either individually or collectively to express support for InfiLaw and to plead for InfiLaw's return. Carr said that such support would have to be expressed to the students and to the public, including the Commission on Higher Education. He also announced that a decision about the school's future would be made early the following week (that is, the week of May 11).
Carr suggested that the lack of strong and public support for the sale to InfiLaw would mean that the law school would close. However, three days later, the CHE wrote to Carr and Kosko and reminded them that any teach-out plans and any decision not to accept an entering class would require approval, but that nothing had been shared with the CHE to that point.
On May 15, 2015, approximately three-quarters of the school's faculty recorded their strong opposition to the InfiLaw sale in a commentary appearing in the local newspaper. On the same day, the remaining owners released a statement stating that no information about the future of the school would be released until the following week (that is, the week of May 18). On May 22, 2015, the school announced that it would accept an entering class for 2015-2016. It simultaneously announced that the school would not be renewing the contracts of seven of its faculty in a cost-cutting move.
On June 5, 2015, the board of the school announced the hiring of Joseph D. Harbaugh as the interim president of the school. In addition to his educational background, Harbaugh serves on InfiLaw System's National Policy Board.
On June 26 and 29, 2015, two of the seven professors whose contracts were not renewed a month earlier filed suit against the law school's owners (including both Carr, Kosko, and their limited liability company). The suits, filed by Nancy Zisk and Allyson Haynes-Stuart, claim that the owners of the school falsely claimed a financial emergency existed and that the owners have, instead, continued draining money from the school's operation to avoid paying salaries and have violated tenure rights to retaliate for the plaintiffs' opposition to the sale of the school to InfiLaw. South Carolina trial judge Markley Dennis granted Professor Zisk an injunction which required the school to rehire her pending the outcome of the lawsuits. On October 19, 2015, Carr, Kosko, and the law school counterclaimed against Professors Zisk and Haynes, alleging that they had sabotaged the school and conspired with others to prevent its sale to Infilaw.
On August 14, 2015, the school announced that it would not be granting to three professors tenure despite admitting their qualifications; the school explained that it could not extend tenure during the alleged financial crisis. On October 16, 2015, two of the professors sued the Charleston School of Law for several claims arising out of their denial of tenure and the financial mismanagement by the school's owners.
On October 28, 2015, the dean of the school announced that a lawyer from Georgetown, South Carolina named Ed Bell would be assuming the presidency as of Thursday, October 29, 2015. Before being sworn in as the new president of the school, Bell explained that he had agreed to personally fund the pay-off of the approximately $6 million debt the school had incurred to InfiLaw. Additionally, he stated that his immediate plans included creating a board of directors, converting the school to a nonprofit, and securing a new campus.
In March 2016, the law school announced that the seven faculty members who had been fired in 2015 would be returning in various capacities in the fall of 2016.
After being placed on the U.S. Department of Education's list of schools with a problematic Financial Ratio Responsibility score — a federal benchmark of a school's financial health — the school's score rose from a failing minus 0.6 in 2014 and 2015 to 2.6 for 2016. A 1.5 is the point at which a school is placed on the watch list.
Costs, post-graduation information and student debt
The total cost of attendance (indicating the cost of tuition, fees, and living expenses) at Charleston for the 2013-2014 academic year is $57,097. Law School Transparency's estimated debt-financed cost of attendance for three years is $213,710.
According to Charleston School of Law's 2013 ABA-required disclosures, 53.33% of the Class of 2013 obtained full-time, long-term, JD-required employment nine months after graduation. Charleston School of Law's Law School Transparency under-employment score is 28%, indicating the percentage of the Class of 2013 unemployed, pursuing an additional degree, or working in a non-professional, short-term, or part-time job nine months after graduation.
According to U.S. News & World Report, the average indebtedness for law school of 2013 graduates who incurred law school debt was $146,765, and 89% of 2013 graduates took on debt.
The following tables reflect admissions information arranged by the year of admission, not by year of graduation.
South Carolina bar-exam passage
In South Carolina, the bar exam is administered twice a year, in July and February. July is the primary testing date for those who graduate in May. A much smaller group, generally out-of-state applicants, repeat takers, and December graduates, take the February exam. The school graduated its first students in May 2007 who sat for the exam in July 2007. The following are the pass rates for school alumni for each South Carolina bar exam since July 2007.
* The July 2007 results were revised upwards (from an original 65 percent rate) after the South Carolina Supreme Court threw out a section of the exam because of an error by a bar examiner.
The median age of first-year, full-time students at the school is twenty-three years; however, students range from age twenty to fifty-one. About half of the full-time student body (56 percent) are South Carolina residents. Males outnumber females in the full-time program by a 52–48 margin.
On November 29, 2007, the school's first dean, Richard Gershon, announced he would be leaving the post to return to full-time teaching at the school. He was awarded an honorary LL.D degree in May 2008 for his leadership.
In December 2007, Andrew "Andy" L. Abrams, a professor at the school and a former provost for the College of Charleston, was named as the school's interim dean. In June 2008, Abrams became the school's second dean.
Former U.S. Senator and South Carolina Governor Ernest Hollings is on the Board of Advisors of the Charleston School of Law and is a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Law there. He delivered the commencement address to the first graduating class there on May 19, 2007.
When the law school was first organized in 2003, the school was operated out of a building at 560 King St. (pictured above) while work progressed on its future location. Although the school left that building within one year, the school's physical plant has always been located in Charleston's Upper King Street district. During its first year in operation, the school was located at 81 Mary St. (pictured above), in an antebellum railroad station. That building continues to serve as the school's law library, while most classrooms, offices, and other uses have moved to new locations as the school has grown and acquired new space. The school has leased space in nearby buildings including a large portion of the AT&T Building at the southwest corner of Mary and Meeting Streets and administrative space at 394 Meeting St. (designed by Leonard C. Gaines in 1955),. In 2004, the school purchased a 1.25 acre lot at the corner of Woolfe St. and Meeting St. from the City of Charleston for $875,000; no improvements have been added, but the sale (at a loss to the City) was made to keep the school on the peninsula.
Charleston Law Review
The Charleston Law Review is a journal published by an independent organization composed of second- and third-year students at the school. The organization's primary objective is to foster the knowledge and insight of students, practitioners, scholars and the judiciary through a traditional forum dedicated to the pursuit of innovative legal expression, composition and scholarship. Members of the organization contribute to this objective by editing articles, writing notes, and actively participating in all aspects of the publication process.
Its inaugural journal, released in Fall 2006, featured five articles by legal scholars on topics ranging from human trafficking to preservation of Gullah-Geechee culture. It published a second issue devoted to student works in Spring 2007.
The foreword of Volume 2, Issue 1 (Fall 2007) was written by U.S. President Barack Obama, who, at the time, was a U.S. Senator from Illinois and a leading candidate for the Democratic Party nomination in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Retired Justice Sandra Day O'Connor was the keynote speaker at a symposium on First Amendment religious issues co-hosted by the Charleston Law Review on April 15, 2013.
Sara Ruff was the inaugural editor-in-chief (2006–2007). Subsequent editors-in-chief have been George "Matt" Kendall (2007–2008), Katie Fowler Monoc (2008–2009), Ben Garner (2009–2010), Piper Reiff Byzet (2010–2011), Mollie Mohan (2011–2012), Morgan Peterson (2012–2013), Leigh Ellen Gray (2013–2014), Jose Gonzales (2014–2015), Roger "Hank" Young (2015–2016), David DuTremble (2016–2017), and Lauren Daniels (current).
Federal Courts Law Review
Founded in July 1997, the Federal Courts Law Review is an electronic law review dedicated to legal scholarship relating to federal courts. Articles are from scholars, judges and distinguished practitioners. Its editorial board, composed primarily of U.S. magistrate judges and law-school professors, to combine the insight of the federal judiciary with the perspective of law-school academics.
The school was selected in 2005 by the Federal Magistrate Judges Association to oversee the publication of a printed version of the Federal Courts Law Review. This companion to the current online format is intended to cater to subscribers who would welcome a printed version. The printed version will also allow for inclusion of selected student works.
Maritime Law Bulletin
The Maritime Law Bulletin (MALABU) is a periodical bulletin, edited by law students, focusing on significant maritime issues. First published in February 2006, the bulletin is the publishing arm of the school's Charleston Maritime Law Institute.
The institute is a collaborative effort involving students, professors and leading maritime lawyers and professionals from around the Southeastern U.S.. In addition to promoting maritime legal studies at the school, the institute will provide programs and seminars periodically on maritime matters.
Resolved: Journal of Alternative Dispute Resolution
Resolved is a student-run e-Publication that was founded in conjunction with the Center for Dispute Resolution. The Center's vision in creating Resolved is to promote research and writing in the areas of dispute resolution theory, skills, techniques and application. Resolved provides a comprehensive resource that fosters intellectual discourse amongst the judiciary, professors, students, mediators and attorneys through a contemporary medium. Resolved is dedicated to increasing awareness of alternative dispute resolution trends and sharing thought-provoking viewpoints. Megan Hunt was the inaugural editor-in-chief. Subsequently, Justice Perkins was editor-in-chief for 2010–2011  and M. Christie McDonnell is the editor-in-chief for 2011–2012.
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