John Grisham's latest novel, titled The Rooster Bar
, tells the story of Mark Frazier, a law student who attends a for-profit institution called Foggy Bottom Law School. By the time he is a senior, Mark has accumulated $195,000 in student loans and concludes he made a bad investment.
FBLS's bar pass rates are embarrassing low, and few of its graduates obtains jobs that justify their enormous student-loan debt. By the time FBLS students are seniors, their morale has plummeted, and some even spare verbally with their professors in class. In fact:
To varying degrees, almost everyone Mark knew believed that (1) FBLS was a sub-par law school that (2) made too many promises, and (3) charged too much money, and (4) encouraged too much debt while (5) admitting a lot of mediocre students who really had no business in law school, and (6) were either not properly prepared for the bar exam or (7) to dumb to pass it.
Foggy Bottom Law School is a fictional for-profit law school, but it closely resembles the real ones. Infilaw, owned by an equity group out of Chicago, runs three for profit law schools; and all three are in trouble. Charlotte School of Law closed in August after it lost its license to operate. Arizona Summit Law School was placed on probation last March by the American Bar Association, and the ABA warned Florida Coastal School of Law in October that it was "significantly out of compliance" with the ABA's accreditation standards.
Not surprisingly, Infilaw wants to sell
its two law schools that are still open. But why did the American Bar Association ever accredit these schools in the first place? The answer is illusive, but here is a key fact. In the 1995, when Bill Clinton was president, the U.S. Justice Department sued the ABA, claiming it was in violation of federal antitrust laws. The suit was settled in 1996, and the ABA agreed not to deny accreditation to a law school solely because it was a for-profit entity.
That same year, a law professor named Don Lively started Florida Coastal Law School in Jacksonville, Florida. In 2004, Lively sold out to Sterling Partners, a Chicago-based private-equity firm. According to the Wall Street Journal
, Sterling created Infilaw as a holding company for the law schools and lined up additional investors, allegedly including Harvard University's endowment fund.
By almost any measure, all three Infilaw law schools are sub-par institutions. If you want to see the data, visit Law School Transparency's web site
. All three schools charge high tuition rates similar to reputable law schools like Harvard and Yale. Yet these three schools have low bar pass rates and very few graduates find law jobs that justify the enormous student-loan debt they accumulated to get their law degrees.
The for-profit advocates say schools like the Infilaw trio offer opportunities to minority students who are often rejected by reputable schools because of mediocre undergraduate GPAs and low LSAT scores. But the top-tier schools bend over backward to attract minority students and have plenty of scholarship money to recruit them. Too often the people who enroll at for-profit law schools are not academically prepared to study law and often fail their bar exams.
As has been often reported in the media, the job market for recent law graduates is terrible; and the bottom-tier law schools are producing lawyers who run a high risk of failing the bar while facing dismal job prospects.
In short, the integrity of legal education has been seriously undermined by a herd of poor-quality law schools, including the Infilaw schools and several public law schools as well. Apparently, even Harvard University contributed to this train wreck, although Harvard wouldn't confirm that its endowment fund invested in Infilaw's schools.
The American Bar Association is primarily responsible for this disaster, but is it taking steps to shut down the bottom-feeding law schools? No it is not. In fact, the ABA is considering a measure that would allow law schools to make LSAT scores
an optional criteria for law school admission. The purpose of that action, perhaps, is to make it harder to measure just how low some law schools' admission standards really are.
John Grisham. The Rooster Bar
. New York: Doubleday, 2017.
Andrew Kreighbaum. ABA Backs Testing Choices on law Admissions
, Inside Higher Ed, November 7, 2017.
Andrew Kreighbaum. Report: For-Profit Looking to Sell 2 Law Schools
. Inside Higher Ed
, November 29, 2017.
Josh Mitchell. The Rise and Fall of a Law School Empire Fueled by Student Loans. Wall Street Journal
, November 24, 2017.
Law School Transparency
Angela Morris. GRE or LSAT? ABA Council's Latest Move Could Nix Tests Altogether
. Law.com, November 3, 2017.
United States v. American Bar Association, 934 F. Supp. 435 (D.D.C. 1996).