In an age where fewer students are applying to law school, many educational institutions are looking to get creative with how they manage their future legal leaders. But while some institutions are simply decreasing law school class sizes, one private equity firm has decided to take after University of Phoenix instead of Harvard or Yale.
For-profit law schools are growing, and much of the established legal academy isn’t too happy about the development.
The InfiLaw System, started by Chicago-based Sterling Partners in 2004, targets students whose GPAs or LSAT scores don’t qualify them for admission with the top schools. According to The Wall Street Journal, the system’s goal is to provide more hands-on learning. One spokesman for InfiLaw said the program aims to have students receive at least 400 hours of on-the-job training while in school.
Sterling Partners established InfiLaw shortly after purchasing the Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, Fla. Since then, InfiLaw has also launched Phoenix School of Law in Arizona in 2004 and the Charlotte School of Law in North Carolina in 2006. InfiLaw also recently announced plans to purchase the for-profit Charleston (S.C.) School of Law, although the sale has been put on hold after some students and faculty raised concerns over the new partnership.
Since its inception, the system has had detractors. Multiple former Florida Coastal students have sued InfiLaw, claiming the company was preying on vulnerable students with false promises. According to the WSJ, others decry what InfiLaw means to the job market, as InfiLaw is graduating more students than there are entry-level jobs.
In total, InfiLaw’s bar passage rates are below state averages. So are the system’s job placement rates: only half of Charlotte’s graduating class received jobs that necessitated passing the bar upon graduation, about 10 percent below state averages.
But those failures have not extended to InfiLaw itself. Between Florida Coastal’s 1,250 students, Charlotte’s 1,360 students, and the roughly $40,000 tuition and fees at all three of its schools, InfiLaw is raking in the money.
However, the system does have some who believe it has merit. Indiana University law professor William Henderson told the WSJ, “InfiLaw is applying a private-equity model to legal education, and so far I'm fairly impressed by what I've seen.” Henderson says he thinks “these are people who could make a difference in legal education.”