Two law schools now offer partial refunds if you can’t pass the bar

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Law schools are struggling these days. Applications are down nearly 50 percent since 2004 and at their lowest ebb lowest since the Reagan administration, as The New York Times notes.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And now lower-tier American law schools are starting to sound less like high-minded academics and a just a bit like Vince Offer — the ShamWow! Guy.

Consider Florida Coastal School of Law and Charlotte School of Law. As The National Law Journal reports, both are testing out partial refund programs for graduates who meet certain conditions but fail to pass state bar examinations.

Florida Coastal and Charlotte are independent of each other, but they are both for-profit outfits affiliated with InfiLaw Inc.

Full-time tuition at each school is roughly $37,000 a year.

Under the refund plan at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, students who don’t pass the bar after two attempts will get $10,000 as long as they have completed a selection of bar prep courses offered by the school.

In addition, anyone who meets a host of studying-related requirements but is nevertheless dismissed for academic reasons after the all-important first year will receive $10,000. (The school’s website helpfully recommends that ousted 1Ls use the money “to defray any student loans incurred.”)

In another perk of sorts, students at Florida Coastal who don’t obtain clerkships, externships, clinic spots or some kind of satisfying legal experience while in law school will receive $2,000 in compensation.

Florida Coastal’s dean, Peter Goplerud, said he hopes the school never has to distribute any refunds.

“The key is that this is a partnership. It’s join accountability,” Goplerud told The National Law Journal. “If students complete the requirements we’ve set out, we aren’t going to write any checks.”

The program at the Charlotte School of Law in Charlotte, North Carolina is less comprehensive. It offers $10,000 to students who fail on two occasions to pass either the North Carolina or South Carolina bar exams.

Daniel Piar, associate dean for academics at Charlotte Law, described his school’s program as a safety net for students who show they have dutifully prepared for their bar exams but can’t clear that final hurdle to law practice. 

“Law student these days, I think, have becoming increasingly more selective and savvier consumers, and they’re looking more at things like outcomes,” Piar told The National Law Journal. “So I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more schools launch these types of programs in the future.”

Most law schools including Florida Coastal and Charlotte don’t appear to be cutting tuition in response to the severe drop in demand for their services, as The Times notes.

Washington University Law School professor Brian Z. Tamanaha, the author of “Failing Law Schools,” has argued convincingly that steep increases in law school tuition and law student debt have played a major role in the decline in applications.

In 2001, Tamanaha told The Times, the average tuition price for private law school was $23,000; by 2012 it was $40,500. That’s a 76 percent increase. For public law schools the average cost in 2001 was $8,500 and $23,600 by 2012 — a 178 percent increase.

According to the Consumer Price Index, a typical good or service that cost $23,000 in 2001 would be expected to cost about $29808 in 2012. A typical good or service that cost $8,500 in 2001 would cost about $11,016 in 2012.

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Eric Owens