Politics & Government

Florida company suspends request to buy Charleston School of Law

The Florida company seeking a license to own and operate the private Charleston School of Law withdrew that request a day before a crucial vote by state regulators.

InfiLaw said it was suspending its license application at the request of Senate Education Committee chairman John Courson, R-Richland, who said the potential sale of the law school by its founders to InfiLaw requires more review.

“It needs to be vetted,” he said.

Courson also said the commission needs its open seats filled before discussing such an important issue. The commission board has two vacancies, according to its website.

The proposed sale of the decade-old school has stirred opposition from some Charleston School of Law students, faculty and alumni. They fear InfiLaw has lower academic standards that will damage the school’s reputation.

The staff of the S.C. Commission on Higher Education recommended approving InfiLaw's license, but a commission panel recommended rejecting the request last month, citing concerns about the company's operation of three other private law schools, pending lawsuits and the vocal opposition.

However, a S.C. attorney general’s opinion issued late last week said the state’s higher-education commission must make decisions based on established criteria, not vocal opposition.

“Given these circumstances, we want to give the commission additional time to consider and reconcile these issues, including responses to questions we submitted just a few days ago,” Infilaw said in a statement. “During this time, we will continue to work with the school’s owners and its academic leadership to chart the best path forward.”

InfiLaw already works as a management consultant for the Charleston School of Law, which opened in 2004 and received American Bar Association accreditation in 2011.

The company also holds a $6 million loan from the school that two of its owners used to buy out two other founders. InfiLaw did not say if it plans to call the loan, but noted on a website addressing the sale that school owners took $25 million from the school for themselves before negotiations started.

“The delay in securing (state) approval has created further uncertainty, particularly among students and applicants, further impacting our financial future,” the school said on a website addressing the proposed sale.

Enrollment at the school has dropped 24 percent to about 500 students since 2011, according to Bar Association.

The school said expense cuts are possible.

“Given the current financial circumstances, ownership limbo and the delay in resolving this issue, our resources have become more limited in light of declining enrollments and it is clear we must quickly come up with a plan to run and operate the school that reflects current financial circumstances,” the school said.