Updated to include 2014 admissions data
My article in the Atlantic on Infilaw’s law school operations has elicited a response from Ken Randall, formerly dean at Alabama, and currently President of Infilaw Ventures, which Infilaw describes as an effort to “extend education to the under-served nationally and internationally, focusing on student needs and outcomes.”
Randall’s reply consists largely of hand-waving, since the main points of my article — that all the Infilaw schools feature terrible employment outcomes, and absurdly high educational debt loads, which I estimate at more than $200,000 on average per graduate — aren’t open to dispute. Randall does claim that Florida Coastal, at least, has had great success in getting graduates with abysmal LSAT scores to pass the bar, although, as I point out in my response, he doesn’t provide the necessary data to test this claim.
I noted in the article that until very recently, Florida Coastal admitted relatively few such students (barely 10 percent of applicants with sub-145 LSAT scores were admitted in 2009; more than half of applicants with such scores were admitted last year). This means that the members of those Florida Coastal classes with large numbers of sub-145 matriculants have yet to attempt to pass the bar.
(A 144 LSAT represents the 23rd percentile score among all test-takers).
Coincidentally, within a few days of the publication of Randall’s letter, bar results for the July 2014 exam became available in Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina, where Infilaw’s three current schools (the consortium is now trying to acquire Charleston Law School, in the face of strong opposition from alumni and others) are located.
The 2014 bar exam results are particularly significant because, with the matriculation of the class of 2011, the Infilaw schools began to relax what admission standards they had maintained up until then, and they have continued to slash them even more radically in the years since. (The entering classes of 2011 made up almost all of the first-time takers of the 2014 bar from the three schools). Here are the 75th, 50th, and 25th LSAT scores for the entering classes at Florida Coastal, Arizona Summit, and Charlotte.
2009 153 150 147
2011 151 147 145
2013 148 144 141
2014 147 143 140
2009 154 151 148
2011 151 148 146
2013 148 144 141
2014 149 144 140
2009 153 151 148
2011 151 148 145
2013 149 144 141
2014 146 142 138
Here is a percentile conversion chart for LSAT scores. While it is true that it’s important not to overstate the significance of the LSAT as a measure of overall intelligence, or as a predictor of an eventual ability to practice law at an acceptably competent level, it’s also true that there is a genuinely massive difference between an LSAT score in the low 150s and the low 140s.
Indeed, as I noted in my original article, while relatively little correlation can be found between LSAT scores and bar passage rates at higher levels, a strong relationship begins to appear as scores dip toward the 150 range. Prior to 2011, the Infilaw schools clearly strove to keep the median LSAT for their matriculants in the 150s, and to admit relatively few applicants with scores in the 140s, and especially in the low 140s. As the statistics above indicate, three years ago that policy started to give way to the need to keep sending large sums of money to Sterling Partners, the Chicago-based private equity firm that owns Infilaw, and the trend has accelerated since then.
In the article, I predicted that Infilaw graduates would soon begin to fail the bar in large numbers, since what little data existed regarding graduates with LSAT scores in the mid to low 140s (there was little data because until about three years ago only a tiny number of law graduates had such scores) suggested that even turning law school into a three-year bar review course — a pedagogical approach which has less than zero intellectual value, and no practical value for anything other than passing the bar — won’t be able to produce reasonable bar passage rates among these graduates.
The 2014 bar results for the three Infilaw schools provide grim evidence for this prediction. Up until this year, all three schools had mostly managed to maintain bar passage rates roughly similar to the average passage rate in their respective states. For example, Florida Coastal graduates who were first-time takers of the Florida bar passed the exam at rates of between 74.2% and 76.0% between 2010 and 2012 (the passage rate for all first-time takers in the state was between 77.6% and 80.0% during those years). Results were similar for Arizona Summit and Charlotte
This July, FCSL’s first-time passage rate fell to 58% — and that percentage was apparently the highest of the three Infilaw schools. July results for Arizona Summit revealed that 54.4% of first-time takers passed (compared to 89.2% and 88.6% of first-time takers from the state’s other two law schools). Meanwhile, 55% of Charlotte graduates passed the July, 2014 North Carolina bar.
Keep in mind that these results are for 2011 matriculants (and some 2010 part-time matriculants). In other words, there’s every reason to expect these terrible results — imagine graduating from law school with $200,000 in non-dischargeable educational loans and no law license — to get much worse, as the entry standards for the matriculating classes of 2013 at these schools were substantially worse than those for the classes of 2011.
Note too that Infilaw is going to considerable extremes to artificially pump up even these terrible numbers:
In addition, after the article’s publication, a former member of the school’s faculty revealed to me that Florida Coastal is now paying selected graduates $1,200 a month for seven months, if they agree to take bar-review and career-preparation courses for six months (!) rather than attempting to pass the July bar exam subsequent to their graduation.
(I was told last week that at least one of the other two Infilaw schools is employing a similar program).
All this adds up to what appears to be a decision on the part of Infilaw (and, ultimately, Sterling Partners) to engage in the higher educational equivalent of a bust-out scheme. Indeed, I was told recenlty by a faculty member at one of these schools that, during the 2010-11 application cycle, Infilaw made it quite explicit to the school’s faculty that they would no longer have any real say in admissions decisions, after some faculty members warned the school’s administration that many of the students the administration was choosing to admit during that cycle would have little or no chance of ever passing the bar.
And to those who ask why “the ABA” isn’t doing something about this, the answer can be found readily enough by considering the extent to which the ABA’s Section of Legal Education provides a textbook example of regulatory capture:
As [Randall’s] letter illustrates, InfiLaw has pursued an aggressive strategy of purchasing the services of prominent figures in the ABA regulatory apparatus, such as himself, Jay Conison, and former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, who is currently both the chairman of InfiLaw’s National Policy Board and the head of an ABA committee charged with studying the financial structure of legal education.
This is not, in other words, what one would call a subtle operation.