By Oliver Bateman
The Charlotte School of Law may not be able to outrun the latest—and most damning—chapter of its at-times-scandalous existence. For years, the for-profit school was targeted by critics for its increasingly negative student outcomes: median LSAT scores in the low 140s, state bar-passage rates that hovered around 45 percent, high student indebtedness, and lackluster employment figures. In 2014, a routine re-accreditation site visit by officials from the American Bar Association led to closer scrutiny of the school’s admissions and teaching practices. That same year, it appears the school began offering $11,200 grants to students who delayed taking the bar. During October of last year, the school was placed on probation by the American Bar Association.
Then came the most damaging news: in mid-December, the Department of Education denied the law school’s application for recertification under Title IV of the Higher Education Act. This decision prevented Charlotte’s students from receiving federal loan money—an unprecedented decision for a law school that remains accredited, for-profit or otherwise. Now without a significant source of revenue, the school saw no choice but to fire up to two-thirds of its faculty and close several of its legal-aid clinics.
For many years, experts had predicted the demise of underperforming law schools. The legal employment market has been especially grim since 2009, when the recession caused a sharp decline in demand for legal services—after which large firms responded by laying off substantial numbers of associates. Although the market has seen a 9 percent decline in law-school graduates from 2014 to 2015, there has been a corresponding 8.6 percent decline in the number of legal jobs that require admission to a state bar. As a result, in 2016 the number of law-school graduates exceeds that of legal jobs for them to fill. And these graduates face other obstacles besides securing a full-time job, as students who have completed three years of law school can expect to be saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in loan debt.