Yesterday afternoon, Arizona Summit Law School in downtown Phoenix issued the following press release regarding its goal to affiliate with a university rather than remain a standalone law school. A school spokeswoman said that they expect to complete the affiliation “within the year.” What such an affiliation “with a major university” ultimately means for Summit is unclear; I’ll be reaching out to school officials in coming days to ask about their strategic thinking. At this point, the school has said that the collaboration would “allow lower tuition, improved economies of scale in pursuit of mission to provide legal education to diverse and non-traditional students.”
I’ll report more when I learn more. And if you are a Summit student or faculty member, feel free to contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s the release:
PHOENIX, AZ (August 15, 2016): Arizona Summit Law School (Summit), one of the nation’s few independent law schools, intends to affiliate with a major university within the year.
“The decision to affiliate reflects the strong commitment we have to our students,” said Don Lively, Summit president. “We conducted a survey of our students and learned that 67% of them would prefer attending a law school that is part of a university system. Toward this end, we are in advanced negotiations with a few universities that share our mission and values. The advantages of this transition are multifold. It will strengthen Summit’s reputation, make its program more affordable, reduce tuition dependency, result in stronger academic support systems and improved outcomes, enhance faculty and institutional development opportunities, create interdepartmental synergies, and significantly enhance the ability to achieve our mission of diversifying legal education and the legal profession.”
Founded in 2005, Summit was designed and developed by legal educators concerned about the direction of traditional legal education, which has drifted from the realities of the contemporary legal profession. Summit recognizes not only the need for change, but also the opportunity to become a benchmark institution for the 21st Century. Its goals include graduating students who truly are practice-ready and, most importantly, diversifying one of the nation’s least diverse professions.
In its short history, Summit has earned numerous awards for diversity and innovation—including being a two-time winner of the American Bar Association Gambrell Award. Summit students last year logged more than 100,000 public service hours. The school’s career placement rate for JD advantage, bar pass required, and professional positions leads all 50 tier two law schools. It has a student loan default rate of less than 2%, which is one of the best among the nation’s universities and law schools (including many state universities and ivy league schools).
Dean Shirley Mays notes that, “our mission entails admitting many students from disadvantaged backgrounds who have lower entering credentials but the potential to succeed. Our ability to and record of enabling success is evidenced by an ultimate bar pass rate that complies with ABA standards, our strong career placement rate, and many stories from employers who prefer to hire our graduates because of their preparedness for practice and strong work ethic. Dean Mays added “over the past decade, we have had a profound impact on the legal profession’s diversity in Arizona. In 2004, the state bar’s diversity rate was 8% compared to the overall state population’s diversity rate of ~40%. In 2015, we had a graduate diversity rate of 31% compared with the 15% diversity rate of the state’s other schools.”
Summit’s latest milestone on its mission of diversity is a program offering full scholarships plus $5,000 in living expenses to students with an LSAT score of 150 or above. The program, another market of its innovative mindset, is targeting students who are members of historically or economically disadvantaged groups and is being coordinated in partnership with Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Legal education traditionally has assumed that schools must choose between high LSAT scores and diversity. The Summit scholarship initiative demonstrates that it can preserve a mission of diversity and, at the same time, increase the entering credentials of its students and ultimately its first-time bar pass rate.
The legal profession has changed dramatically in recent years, but law schools generally have not kept pace. Within this context, new leadership in legal education likely will emerge. Summit is building a school created not only to respond to but lead change and be recognized as an institution of true social utility. For more information, please visit www.azsummitlaw.edu.Follow @azatty