By FRED HORLBECK, Senior Staff Writer
The final inspection is over. Now comes the waiting and the wondering.
Seven years after admitting its first class, will the Charleston School of Law gain full accreditation from the American Bar Association in 2011?
Dean Andy Abrams is confident that it will. But first, ABA inspectors who recently visited the school must issue a report to an accreditation committee, which is expected make the final decision next summer.
By then, the school, which received provisional accreditation in 2006, will be poised to execute a new phase in its growth: A long-range strategic plan, CSOL’s first and something that the accreditation process largely precluded.
“By necessity, with accreditation, most of your strategic planning is fairly short-term because you’re continuously needing to adjust to the feedback you get from the accrediting team. We’ll have a strategic plan in place in anticipation of being fully accredited,” Abrams told Lawyers Weekly.
“I don’t envision a dramatic change in course for the direction of this law school. I think what we have done meets a real need. I think it’s important and I think we’ll try to do what we’re doing and just continue to try to do it better and serve our communities,” he said.
The ABA team, one of a number that have made annual inspections since the start of CSOL’s accreditation process, visited for three days in November.
ABA site teams typically include an out-of-state lawyer and faculty and administrators from law schools around the nation, Abrams said. This one watched classes, talked with board members, professors, administrators, students and others and departed, leaving no clue as to what their report might say.
“They don’t make conclusions. They just build a record of fact,” he said.
Was CSOL ready?
“We’ve been at it for seven years,” Abrams said. “The Charleston School of Law is a remarkable success story when you think about an institution just beginning from scratch, not housed within a university and having the benefit of that existing infrastructure, or even housed within a corporation.”
CSOL was founded with the mission of emphasizing public service, as exemplified in the school’s motto, “Pro bono populi,” which means “For the good of people,” Abrams said.
Since then, its students have racked up more than 140,000 hours in pro bono service, he said. Its job-placement stats reflect a high percentage of graduates starting their careers in the public arena, with small law firms or as solo practitioners.
“Our students, by and large, were not aspiring to work for megafirms in New York or Chicago or L.A. Those jobs were the jobs that disappeared first, but they weren’t the jobs that our students typically were thinking about anyway. Our students have continued to work in the public sector because of the huge emphasis on community service,” Abrams said.
The school started with a faculty of five full-time professors, with two administrators who served as part-time instructors. Today it has 30 faculty members and is preparing to hire four more, Abrams said.
The school’s first class, which matriculated in 2004, had 137 full-time and 62 part-time students. The class of 2013 has 188 full-time and 50 part-time students.