Arizona Summit Law School has announced it is seeking an affiliation with a "major university" partner.

Arizona Summit Law School has announced it is seeking an affiliation with a “major university” partner.

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 arizona.attorney@azbar.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.”

AZ Summit Law School Phoenix Law logoFounded 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 Arizona Summit Law School

Dean Shirley Mays, Arizona Summit Law School

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.

Wednesday evening saw a great event: a party celebrating two Phoenix School of Law achievements.

As you may have heard, the state’s only for-profit law school has garnered full accreditation from the American Bar Association. And this fall, it also hired new law Dean Shirley L. Mays.

Shirley Mays, Dean of the Phoenix School of Law

At twilight on the fourth-floor patio of the Phoenix Downtown Sheraton, speakers battled with hard-working AC compressors to commemorate both accomplishments. Dean Mays spoke eloquently on the “justice gap,” in which the legal needs of many—including the elderly, veterans and the poor—are left unmet. That, she said, is one of the abiding challenges of law schools today.

Phoenix Law, Mays said, is committed to launching graduates who are “book smart and justice ready.” They seek to foster “a culture of innovation.”

“The world is in a time of mind-boggling transition,” Mays said. “The elections yesterday prove that.”

Don Lively speaking at the Phoenix Law reception. Nov. 3, 2010

Other speakers included Don Lively, the school’s first dean and now the senior vice president for parent company InfiLaw, based in Naples, Fla.; and Phoenix attorney Pat McGroder, who is on the school’s regional board of advisors.

As I left the event, I bumped into Don Lively in the elevator. We recalled how we spoke years ago in an interview when the school was first established. He laughed as he sympathized with me, who had to listen to his far-ranging musings on legal education—and beyond.

Pat McGroder

I also laughed, but I reassured him of one thing: The conversation was entirely enjoyable, mainly because of the passion he brought to it. I admit that talking to Lively takes you on a path that’s a blend of law-school lecture, Nova special on the cosmos, and a wiki on popular-culture references. But for someone who talks to lawyers all the time, Don’s passion was one of the first clues I had that something truly different was in the works at this new legal venture.

And now the ABA has weighed in—apparently they agree.

Congratulations to the school. And we look forward to more of that passion from their newest Dean.

More photos from the event are here.