Six months after a damning report from the American Bar Association, Charlotte’s only law school has become a shell of its former self.
The for-profit Charlotte School of Law has been forced to stop accepting new students, and the faculty count has been reduced by about 70 percent. Only about 100 students remain enrolled, down from about 750.
But it’s still limping along. Summer school is currently underway, and fall classes are scheduled to start on Aug. 28.
Still, there are a slew of upcoming deadlines and requirements the school must meet before its fate is determined.
“It’s heartbreaking what’s happening because there’s a lot of people who put a lot into this law school and a lot of people who are displaced and had their lives turned around,” said Daniel Herrera, who recently took a leave of absence from the school.
What’s next for Charlotte School of Law?
All indications are that Charlotte School of Law is fighting to be able to graduate the students currently enrolled. But there are several regulatory hurdles it faces to even be able to do that.
On June 21, the UNC Board of Governors gave Charlotte School of Law a deadline: The school has until August 1 to prove that it’s financially stable or it could lose its license to operate in North Carolina. The board also ruled that the school must come up with an ABA approved “teach-out” plan by Aug. 10 to graduate its remaining students. A teach-out plan is a contingency that helps students complete their program at other campuses if theirs closes.
Charlotte School of Law declined to comment for this story, but according to a Feb. 3 email from former Dean Jay Conison to the student body, the school previously filed a teach-out plan with the ABA. But, in March, a decision on whether to approve it was deferred.
Charlotte School of Law is owned by Infilaw System, which owns two other law schools, Florida Coastal and Arizona Summit. Arizona Summit is also on probation.
The plan named Florida Coastal Law as the teach-out partner, to monitor the program and provide quality assurance. It was implemented in February and is designed to run through December 2019, when the last class of students will graduate.
Filing a teach-out program with the ABA would normally only be triggered after a school decides to close. But the letter from the ABA pointed out that the school has made no announcement indicating that it will close. (Hence, the deferred decision).
How were students affected?
The events of last fall — the ABA probation in November, and the loss of Title IV federal loan funding in December — left Charlotte Law students in a tough position.
They had two options: stick it out and try to finish their degree at CSL, or withdraw and transfer to another law school.
Neither was ideal.
Charlotte School of Law tuition is about $45,000 a year for full-time students and about $35,000 for part-time students. Without federal loan funding, students who remained at the school would likely have to pay out of pocket.
Students who withdrew had other problems.
It was too late to transfer to another law school for the spring semester, and Charlotte School of Law is the only law school in the area, so students would need to relocate.
Second-year law student Talece Hunter chose to attend CSL because of its part-time evening program. With this program, she could keep the full-time paralegal job she loved and still achieve her lifelong dream of becoming a lawyer.
In January, Hunter made the difficult decision to withdraw from school.
Now she has $77,000 in student loans, which she’ll have to start paying back in August if she doesn’t transfer to another law school. With transferring comes a whole host of issues, Hunter said. She completed 39 credit hours at CSL, but most schools only accept a maximum of 30 hours from transfer students.
Hunter also said CSL made a curriculum change a few years ago, which boiled many two-semester classes down into one intense semester. When talking with other law schools, she discovered that many won’t accept those credits, either.
Additionally, most schools don’t have part-time programs, let alone part-time evening programs. So, Hunter may have to quit her job and sell her house by August to pursue a full-time law program.
Hunter is concerned about getting a job with CSL on her record. She said she and other students are viewed as “damaged goods,” and some local law firms aren’t interested in hiring any CSL graduates, regardless of class rank.
“It’s gonna follow me. I have to really prove that I’m not incompetent, I’m not stupid and that I deserve to be in law school,” Hunter said.
Hunter is one of at least 280 Charlotte Law students who’s filed a lawsuit against CSL with the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin in Charlotte. At Farrin, Hunter said, each suit is being filed individually, rather than in a class-action lawsuit.
Daniel Herrera, who is also represented by Farrin, recently took a leave of absence from Charlotte School of Law. He’s currently running for Charlotte City Council, but said he’s applied to transfer to a few other law schools and has no plans to return to CSL.
Both Hunter and Herrera criticized the administration’s lack of transparency during a tumultuous time for students.
“I didn’t feel comfortable going back to a school that was hiding information from students, especially when it’s that important,” Herrera said.
Daily update emails were promised, and often didn’t come.
“They were more concentrated on retaining students and allowing more students to come without fixing quality of education or school,” Herrera said. “Unfortunately, it set me back in my academic career.”
Herrera said there were signs that the school wasn’t all that it was supposed to be. When he first enrolled at CSL in August 2015, Herrera said the bar exam passage rate was around 30 percent.
“It was an eye-opener that maybe something’s wrong here,” he said.
The most recent first-time bar passage rate for CSL students was 25 percent in February, down from 34.7 percent the previous year. The state average was 44.4 percent.
Hunter said she’d heard from other students that the bar exam preparation course wasn’t intense enough when compared with outside resources, such as Kaplan.
Despite some of those warning signs, Herrera was caught off guard by the probation. Had he known, he said he never would’ve enrolled in Charlotte School of Law.