Thursday, September 26, 2013

InfiLaw: A backwater empire of four crappy law schools or the future of the scam?

 
(At Hawk Venture Capital, our goal is to create innovative and lasting partnerships with Rodent Law Schools. We provide committed capital, marketing expertise, experienced leadership, and customized technology to our delicious partners).
Picture a law student walking through the stately common areas of Pretend to be Prestigious School of Law. Enrolling in this school was a terrible gamble, but it could have been worse. At least the school is not one of the three, soon to be four, notoriously scammy for-profit InfiLaw-owned law schools. [1] But the fact that a school is not InfiLaw-owned does not guarantee that it is InfiLaw-free. Even if it cannot own a law school outright, InfiLaw may influence a law school's character and direction via its extensive range of administrative and consulting services, as well as by shaping its distance education.
 
As readers of this blog surely know, InfiLaw Corporation is the proud owner of Florida Coastal, Phoenix, and Charlotte Schools of Law--plus, it has recently inked a deal to acquire Charleston School of Law, over strong local opposition. InfiLaw is controlled by a "growth-oriented private equity" firm called Sterling Partners, which has five billion dollars in assets under management. In September, 2011, Sterling Partners completed a debt recapitalization of InfiLaw, and issued a press release boasting of the "future liquidity opportunities as the business continues to grow." But InfiLaw is more than these four schools-- it also includes two recently launched portfolio companies,  InfiLaw Management Solutions and iLawVentures," which aim to "partner" with non-InfiLaw schools.
 
InfiLaw Management Solutions is headed by C. Peter Goplerud, the former Dean of four law schools, including Drake University, University of Oklahoma, Southern Illinois, and Florida Coastal. In fact, Goplerud has just recently stepped down from the Florida Coastal deanship to assume the Presidency of InfiLaw Management Solutions (IMS). IMS seeks to engage in "services agreements" with law schools, reminiscent perhaps of what Halliburton KBR did for the U.S. military in Iraq, with such spectacular results. IMS’s stated goal is "to build lasting relationships with law schools and universities whereby we focus on the administrative responsibilities, enabling our academic partners to focus their core academic program." IMS’s webpage states that the company’s service portfolio includes the following: accreditation support, bar preparation programs, career services planning, emotional intelligence workshop facilitation, faculty & staff engagement, management engagement, student acquisition programs, and transfer attrition.

iLawVentures, LLC: iLaw Ventures is headed by Ken Randall, until very recently the Dean of first tier University of Alabama School of Law. According to Randall, "[o]nline courses and programs such as iLawVentures can bring in extra revenues that universities need. . .The goal is to partner with interested universities to develop and deliver their courses across the state, across the country and even around the world."
 
Across the country and around the world. When virtual classrooms are commonplace, there will be no logistical impediment to some enterprising law school enrolling an LLM class of thousands. Or to peddling certificate and master’s programs in things like dispute resolution and health care compliance to couch potatoes across the land. Of course, iLawVentures LLC will have to outflank a couple of other e-learning corporations that are pursuing similar partnerships with law schools-- namely, Deltek and Concord/Kaplan. [2] As well, law schools are themselves capable developing and delivering online coursework. For instance, scammy Vermont Law School did not need a corporate partner to graduate its first online class of LLMs and MELPs. [3]

So perhaps InfiLaw is the future of law school. A kid will enroll in some seemingly reputable old law school, only to discover that many of its functions are provided by InfiLaw contractors and employees. The school's online courses will have been developed in conjunction with InfiLaw. Its bar prep will be provided by InfiLaw vendors. The career services employee who tells the student to network with his or her dentist will be an InfiLaw temp. The obstacles that the school imposes to keep the top of the class from transferring to one of the tiny number of schools where graduates have a reasonable shot at a good job will have been fashioned by Infilaw advisors. InfiLaw will be the school's trusted consultant in devising strategies to compel staff, VAPs, and even professors, to accept lower pay, less job security, and less autonomy, with no corresponding benefits for students. [4] Accreditation support– aka, handling those theoretically, but not actually, pesky ABA site inspection teams, will be an InfiLaw speciality. [5] Of course, student recruitment will be InfiLaw too-- marketing is way too important to be left to amateurs. [6]
 
An encouraging vision. Yes, I say that grimly, but without irony. InfiLaw will need to attract law school partners and use those partnerships to generate big profits to feed to those growth-oriented Sterling Partners investors. How?  By saving money for existing law schools through downsizing and demoralizing staff, and by peddling crappy standardized educational products. I could be wrong, but I think that once law schools are in the claws, even partially, of avowed predators who have no long-term stake or commitment to legal education as such, the scam will be too blatant to deceive anybody anymore, and will be shredded like a rodent that has partnered with a hawk.
 
----------------------------
notes.

[1] Paul Campos: "It’s hard to describe how awful the employment outcomes are at these [InfiLaw] schools. . . . All feature atrocious employment statistics, sky high tuition, enormous class sizes, and graduates with massive debt loads."

[2] h/t: commenter CBR on this Lawyers, Guns and Money thread, at July 18, 2013 at 11:34 am.
 
[3] A MELP is a Master's of Environmental Law and Policy. Vermont Law School assures us that "[w]ell-trained professionals with the MELP degree are needed to become effective agents of change in the nonprofit sector, government, and business." Though dubious, I won't try to refute the assertion-- the employment market's demand for MELPs being outside the scope of this post. But maybe Vermont Law School should have been more attentive to its choice of acronyms. The online urban dictionary offers the following definitions of "melp": "punching a pregnant woman in the stomach," and "sitting in a mud puddle."

[4] Other buzzwords to describe the faculty, staff, and management "engagement" services that  InfiLaw offers to its law school partners include the following, selected from its "sample engagement overview": "institutional needs assessment," "senior administration training," "accountability partnerships," "best practices forums," and "continuation of services."

To flesh out what these buzzwords mean in practice, consider InfiLaw's  "administrative and consulting" services agreement with Charleston Law, which was entered into on July 23, 2013 (and was, ultimately, a springboard for InfiLaw's takeover bid, announced five weeks later). In response to inquiries, Charleston Law School provided a redacted copy of its "administrative and consulting services" agreement with InfiLaw. See p. 7-18, of this link. I call readers' attention to Exhibit A of the agreement, at p. 17-18, which lists the astonishing range of consulting and business support services provided by InfiLaw as part of the agreement. These include "weekly or monthly" forums with functional leaders of key areas of law school operations, disciplined application of process improvement methodologies, human capital management, "individual objective development and cascading," and much else. Seriously, check out Exhibit A at p. 17-18.

For a taste of InfiLaw's approach to staff management, consider the following: (a) InfiLaw-owned school Florida Coastal recently laid off 20% of its faculty--including, according to information provided by a Florida Coastal professor to Paul Campos, "anybody with institutional knowledge [and] the younger faculty members who dared to speak out and questioned some of the school’s practices." and (b) InfiLaw-owned Phoenix School of Law recently fired two tenured professors for allegedly objecting to policies the school implemented to discourage student transfers. These policies include: "refusing to write recommendation letters, changing first-year classes to make them incompatible with other schools, and adopting a pass-fail grading system that would make it hard for other schools to identify top students."

[5] Which might explain the extensive ABA service listed on the biographical squibs of members of InfiLaw's National Policy Board.

[6] "CHICAGO, Jan. 9, 2012 – Sterling Partners, a growth-oriented private equity firm with a long history of successful investing in the education sector, has acquired PlattForm Advertising, a leading provider of comprehensive marketing and enrollment-management services to colleges and universities. . . . PlattForm is a pioneer in the field of marketing for higher education and provides a full suite of marketing services to manage and execute all aspects of a school’s marketing strategy. Through the use of rigorous data and analytics, PlattForm creates, manages and executes mission-critical marketing campaigns for both career schools and traditional colleges and universities."

 

22 comments:

  1. Check this out:
    http://lawschoolnumbers.com/JDhope27

    A Hatian immigrant with a 140 LSAT and 2.3 undergrad GPA, and he gets into three InfiLaw schools within 2 days of applying. Tells you all you need to know about InfiLaw. And the fact that the ABA accredits these schools tells you all you need to know about the ABA.

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    1. If you look closer, you will see that he has 10 years of work experience, so I'm putting his age in the 30s. His LSAT/GPA are low, even by 4th tier standards. He will likely graduate in the bottom half of his class at a bottom-tier law school in his mid 30s and have absolutely no chance of ever becoming an actual lawyer.

      Any loans this guy takes WILL end up being the taxpayers' responsibility.

      What's really sad is that his work experience makes it sound like he was actually good at another job. He could probably have some kind of decent life in his current or a similar job, but instead he will chase the dream of being a lawyer. His life will be ruined by law school and the taxpayers will be out $100-200K.

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    2. Also, he notes that he has decided to go to Charlotte. That school has a 38.5% FT/LT JD-Req employment rate. And most of those jobs probably pay less than whatever he was making in his management position.

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    3. Sad and maddening. So much for the American Dream.

      I think this is why some of our leaders are gung-ho on "immigration reform". They are running out of US-born suckers AND need foreigners to pay taxes to continue all their expensive, ineffective "programs". They've sucked the US young adults dry; they don't have much left for taxes, and we are getting wise to some of the higher ed scams. So, law school administrators and such need fresh blood for their schemes.

      The law school pyramid is collapsing but it could very well be propped up for a few more years -- long enough for some profs to get cushy retirements -- if we had an influx of young, eager immigrants. The slightly older immigrants can work hard to pay taxes to fund all the student loan defaults.

      I have nothing against immigrants but I am really suspicious of immigration reform. Are we offering them a "better life" or just poaching their youth and labor?

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  2. Aaaaaand the scam begins to metastasize. While this is part of the long-foretold "process" that results from mutually-assured-distruction, the sad awful truth is that many, many people will be still be injured as the wounded beast thrashes about in an attempt to survive.

    You can't nuke class after class of JD graduates and think you will remain free from the fallout.

    Mad Max - Beyond LawDome.

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    1. The beast is going to thrash, no doubt about it.

      I foresee the bottom tier getting worse and worse, in terms of cost, outcomes, and deception, as the end approaches. And as it arrives, some crazy things gonna happen. For one thing, we can anticipate bankruptcy fraud of massive proportions...conveyances to deans and professors that dwarf previous incidents at some New York institutions...

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    2. What will be interesting to see is whether it is worse at independent law schools, where there is no parent university to back up the retirement benefits. I have suspected that that is what has in large measure driven some private, independent law schools to let themselves be acquired by places like the University of New Hampshire and UMass Dartmouth. The scammers have got to be sleeping better at night knowing that there is a now a state legislature that can tax the people who are already going to cover defaulted student loans in order to keep the pension plan from going belly up.

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  3. Thanks for the link, 6:00 am. At this point, does anyone who is not a complete tool view law school as "professional" school?

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  4. Florida Coastal had a 67.4% bar pass rate for the July 2013 bar - - second from the bottom of all the law schools in Florida.

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  5. Infilaw is despicable, BUT so are pretty much all of the sub-T13 traps/toilets that claim "non-profit" status and use federal student loan money to pay enormous salaries to administrators and faculty while pumping out grads with high debt and low job prospects.

    I think that the ABA and fed gov will crack down on the for-profit schools like the Infilaw empire, because it is politically easy to do so. The "non-profit" schools, especially the public ones, are politically untouchable, because people incorrectly view them as benevolent societal institutions rather than the greedy businesses they are.

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  6. I want to vomit when I read about "student acquisition programs." Those poor bastards are acquired as assets, and then monetized to pay the interest on yet another debt refinancing by the scamcorp.

    No wonder the scammers do whatever it takes to keep any unrecognized geniuses from transferring. They don't want their best assets to wander away.

    Quick! More barbed wire! Over there!

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  7. Thanks for mentioning the new post by Campos. I'd forgotten to put Guns 'n' Money on my morning reading menu.

    I'm surprised that Campos, whom I consider a great hero, gets away with posting at G 'n' M. I guess it was just the word "scam" that was banned by his home institution. But he continues to come up with more fresh, exciting, provocative (and true) reports as the...uh...scam comes apart. I compare it to the Indy 500 when the tires spin off the cars. Good times for everyone.

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    1. "I'm surprised that Campos, whom I consider a great hero, gets away with posting at G 'n' M. I guess it was just the word "scam" that was banned by his home institution."

      It's called 'tenure'. And in this particular case, if the school did take action against him, it'd just blow the issue up in the public eye.

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  8. I hope this post isn't suggesting that Phoenix--the city of Phoenix--is a backwater. It's a great city in some ways. My cousin got a decent associate job working on bankruptcies--as in subcontracted megacorp bankruptcy work--in the Phoenix area. It's just that the Phoenix scamtrap, and ASU for that matter, are so inadequate to serve a great metro area.

    Recent reports indicate that ASU wants to expand attendance. They want to move to downtown Phoenix as part of their PI and government emphasis. I'm sure Sandra Day O'Connor is proud that their graduates can't secure private-sector jobs.

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  9. What's that the hawk's got for dinner, a prairie dog or something?

    Those gasbag professor sites are a dime a dozen, and nothing but text. For great, evocative artwork, you've got to come Outside the Scam.

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  10. For what it's worth, this new guy running the "Ventures" was quite effective at preventing outward transfers when he was at Bama. For one recent year, they had just one transfer out, as opposed to 17 coming in.

    I'm sure that one escapee had to work undercover for months before he got out of that "prestigious" state institution.

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  11. It feels like much of Infillaw's offerings to other bottom tier law schools are in fact a parasitic business, scamming the scammers if you will. All to often consulting, facilitation, and other such things add no value whatsoever and were never intended to. They are intended to be a vehicle to justify decisions already made by the executives or just to simply funnel money to friends.

    Anyway, just like it's hard to scam an honest man, it's probably also hard to scam an honest law school. However, most if not all law schools are not honest. They are afflicted by deadly sins, particularly the Greed for student loan cash, the Gluttony of endless construction of monumental law school buildings, the Pride in being the best third tier toliet in (direction)-(other direction) (state), the Sloth of doing very very little work, and the Envy of schools that rank above their own in US 'News' and World Report.
    The law schools are going to hand their ill gotten gains to any better con artist who talks a good game and plays on their vices.

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    1. What a magnficent conception you have there.

      I might add that there is something perverted and even concupiscent in their constant erection of new monuments to impress the young ones.

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  12. Maybe I'm too optimistic, but somehow I don't think Infilaw will have much success getting their clutches into law schools. Their three schools have just about the worst selectivity profiles and plummeting enrollments (especially at Florida Coastal - see Campos' recent profile of FCLS at LG&M.) That is obviously not a good business method to emulate. The main law school cost component is professors' salaries, and they will no doubt fight an Infilaw takeover tooth-and-nail, as will law administrators. Plus you have an animus against free-market solutions in universities in general. Universities do not mind supposedly non-profit schools that pay out dividends to administrators (like Cooley). but they do object to profits going to outside investors.
    I wouldn't be surprised if Infilaw went out of business in a few years after Florida Coastal and Phoenix collapse. They will be remembered in the same breath as hedge funds that bought repossessed houses in bulk - a bad business model.

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  13. As a student currently attending one of these schools, I only have this to say to prospective infilaw students: (1) RUN far and away from these Infilaw schools, (2) retake your LSAT, (3) don't worry about "wasting time," pursuing other options/schools/ bettering GPA or LSAT, and (4) don't attend a bullshit school where at your best you're more than likely only able to attain a B or B - in your classes!

    If you obtain a scholarship from these schools, a so called "full ride," remember this, the odds are against you. Good job so far, but don't confuse your pre-law school academic successes with law school success at these infilaw schools. The competition can be brutal in undergrad, but it's down right atrocious at infilaw schools. if not extremely competitive, it's a fight to survive the curve, where sometimes the only thing on your side will be luck, because you have no clue how a professor grades. You could answer your exam questions and write the assigned texbook's words verbatim and still end up with a C, because some professor didn't like your "words." I'd liken the situation to a story I heard, one about sea fairing men left to live on a small row boat for weeks, following a tragic boat accident in the late 1800's. The survivors drew straws and the one with the shortest length was beaten over the head and eaten - the cabin boy was the first to go. (see Regina v. Dudley and Stephens). You think you can avoid choosing the shortest straw for 2 semesters or even for the rest of your law school life? These people will make you their cabin boy.

    If I wasn't fortunate enough to have networked, or have been financially stable, I would have been somewhere else, pursuing another occupation.

    I truly regret going here, but I didn't have the balls to call it quits then and retake the LSAT, and sure as hell don't have the balls or guts to quit now, after finishing 3 semesters.

    SAVE YOURSELF! Don't do it! If you think you can, imagine this...imagine that you are competing with ruthless, cutthroat, nice, intelligent, stupid, but hardworking, lazy, but work-smarter-not-harder individuals the 1st year desperately fighting for A's on a C curve. You ever see Batman: the Dark Knight? Well imagine the joker & the pool room scene where he forcibly recruits henchmen by breaking a pool stick and letting them fight, where the survivor is allowed to join him. Infilaw will literally break a pool stick in half over it's knee and watch students fight to the death over grades...then infilaw will get bored and create a ladder/tournament for the survivors to fight other survivors.

    You like professors that can teach and share real life experiences with you? Or professors whom you can grow with as a law student with? Well, if so, throw that idea out the window when attending an infilaw school. They hire new and "let go" old, well-liked, professors each semester. They are like a rich girl, and professors are their shoes - the school wears whatever shoes are fashionable before disposing of them for next season's colors.

    I truly wish the best to all of you! Please make well informed decisions and never give up. However, I do urge you to consider other available options, if contemplating whether or not to attend any of the infilaw schools.

    Now back to reading and outlining 300 shitty pages of Priv's amd Immunities in Con law 2, all of which I'll never apply in real life practice, but maybe a handful of times, if that, and all of which was assigned by a professor who can't even follow her own lesson plans.

    This is only the 2nd week in...
    F$%# my life, for the time being...

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