That’s all that’s left of the Charlotte School of Law — a 404 website unavailable message indicating that the law school has closed, effective Aug. 11, 2017.
The message also includes directions for anyone seeking documentation previously housed and maintained by the law school. Henceforth and forevermore, records pertaining to attendance, performance or graduation from Charlotte School of Law will be maintained by the State Archives of North Carolina.
Life goes on, however, for the students, faculty, staff and administration of Charlotte School of Law. Alumni of the law school, regardless of whether they graduated or passed the bar exam, will populate the workforce for decades to come.
The story of Charlotte School of Law’s rise and fall is well-documented, from its establishment in 2006 in the “nation’s largest city without a law school” through its demise in recent years when it fell out of favor with the ABA and the U.S. Department of Education.
A lot of lives have been interwoven into the story of Charlotte School of Law over the past 11 years. No one knows this better than Paul Meggett, who was serving as interim dean when the law school officially closed.
“To me, this has always been about trying to help our students and our great faculty and staff, and to see the way through for those students who have dreamed of being a lawyer, with little prospect of achieving that goal, become members of the bar.
“Our faculty, in particular, has poured its hearts and lives into this place, and the great staff members have been so supportive of our students and faculty. That is what this has always been about for me and I hope that is what people will remember.”
Meggett is a former member of the NCBA Board of Governors who has also provided leadership to the Minorities in the Profession Task Force, the Joint Diversity Task Force and the Legislative Advisory Committee. He came to Charlotte School of Law in 2011 as an assistant professor and became interim dean last June, long after the school had been placed on probation by the ABA and cut off from federal funding by the Department of Education.
“My knee-jerk response was no,” Meggett said in regard to becoming interim dean. “I had managed to build a pretty good reputation as a lawyer and felt like I was building one in the academy, having served six years as an adjunct professor at UNC, my alma mater, where I was working before coming here.
“So my initial response, although I did not verbalize this, was why would I do that? Why would I put my reputation at risk helping a school that was getting a lot of bad publicity and was in a bad place?”
Meggett also worried, correctly so, whether he would have time to turn things around.
“I prayed about it,” Meggett said, “and decided if I can make a difference and help the students I have been teaching, help the alumni be proud of their school, and help the faculty and staff who stood side by side with me and passionately poured their hearts out, that I should do it.
“I have always told my students ‘don’t be afraid to be great: you will win some, you will lose some, but don’t ever be afraid to stand up.’ How can I tell my students that if I am not willing to jump in?”
Meggett did just that, and was optimistic that Charlotte School of Law would regain its federal funding and “turn the ship.”
“At the end of the day,” he concluded, “we simply ran out of runway.”
R. Lee Robertson Jr. was a firsthand witness to the best and worst of Charlotte School of Law. He was a member of the fourth graduating class in 2012 and currently serves as president of the alumni association.
“I had several careers before I went to law school,” Robertson said. “I taught high school at Independence High, and then I moved to Raleigh and worked for the Boy Scouts. I loved it and would still be doing it if there was any money in it.”
For Robertson, going to law school and practicing with his father at Robertson & Associates has been a dream come true.
“My experience in law school was great,” said Robertson. “When I enrolled the campus was on Wilkinson Boulevard. It was a fantastic building with great classrooms. There were 130 in my class.
“It was a great place to go to law school. The professors were practicing in their field or had been, and we enjoyed being there. I made friends who I’m still friends with; we even played games on the front yard of the school.”
The law school continued to grow. The year after Robertson graduated, it relocated to Charlotte Plaza in Uptown Charlotte. The location, a school press release noted at the time, “expands student access to courts, law firms, and businesses, while improving community access to legal service.”
“Those of us who stayed involved in the alumni association started to hear rumblings of trouble,” Robertson said. “Around 2014 and 2015, we heard and began seeing signs of trouble. The passage rates dropped, and we knew something was going on.”
Now that the law school has closed, aside from the records that are being maintained by the State Archives, the Charlotte School of Law Alumni Association is the strongest tangible link connecting the law school’s 2,300 alumni.
“Our focal point,” Robertson said, “is that we’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing, trying to remind everybody in the community of the good work that our graduates are doing and continue to do.
“We feel like the most important thing we can do is to keep spreading the good word about the things our alumni are doing.”
One Student’s Story
Talece Y. Hunter was caught in the middle of the law school’s downward spiral, and in many ways, she’s still there.
Hunter withdrew from Charlotte School of Law in January 2017, correctly assuming that the law school would not be in existence long enough for her to graduate.
“I left because only 30 credits can transfer, and I already had 39,” said Hunter.
“It would have been like throwing money in the trash, along with the nine hours off the top that I already had.”
Hunter was participating in the law school’s evening program, having entered in August 2015. “There were more than 60 of us when I started in 2015, and it was down to less than five when the law school closed. Many decided to withdraw in January. I was hoping things would change, but it only got worse.”
Hunter already held a bachelor’s degree from Johnson C. Smith University, a master’s degree from the Ohio University, and paralegal certification from Duke University. She was working as a paralegal at Wells Fargo at the time she withdrew, and has recently taken a position as an analyst with Barings, a global investment management firm.
She was also Charlotte School of Law’s last student representative to the NCBA Law Student Division.
“I’m OK,” Hunter said. “I am a little bitter. It has been an emotional roller coaster. We have all been dealing with this since November of last year.”
That is when the ABA placed the law school on probation. The following month, the Department of Education denied Charlotte School of Law’s application for recertification. So even if Hunter had chosen to stay in school, where was she going to get the money?
“That was another reason to withdraw,” she said. “I had to pay out of pocket, and without financial aid I could not go. I could not get a loan for a school that was failing.
“That was the hand I was dealt.”
Hunter and hundreds of additional students are involved in litigation in hopes of having their student loans forgiven, but even if they are successful, she expects it will take 14 months or more for the Department of Education to respond.
“I don’t want to add more debt, but I can’t wait forever,” Hunter said. “I am considering weekend law school in Minnesota, New Jersey, Florida, Michigan and Illinois. I would fly out every other weekend, stay in a hotel for two nights, and attend class all day Saturday and Sunday.
“This will allow me to work full time, which is financially necessary.”
Law School’s Legacy
The remaining two members of the InfiLaw consortium of for-profit law schools are experiencing their own difficulties with the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Arizona Summit Law School in Phoenix was placed on probation in March, and Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville was warned in October that it is not in compliance with numerous accreditation standards.
The Wall Street Journal reported in late November that the law schools are for sale.
Charlotte, meanwhile, is once again the nation’s largest city without a law school.
“There is a real need to have a law school here,” Robertson said. “I think it’s inevitable. I am not sure what it would look like, and it won’t happen anytime soon, but there are a number of colleges and universities in town that could help facilitate that process.”
Robertson added that the presence of a law school had been beneficial to Charlotte, especially to people without the means to afford legal services.
“Our clinics helped a number of people,” he said, “and the law school was a great source of legal assistance. It was a real benefit to other law firms and businesses, and this firm employed law clerks from there since the opening of the law school.”
Those contributions, Meggett added, should not be forgotten. “I had hoped to build bridges within the community,” Meggett said, “and continue serving the underserved by reaching out to those in the community who need legal help. I hope to some extent that the local bar will pick up some of that, and not just with people who need pro bono but also with those who need ‘low bono’ assistance.
“This is an opportunity for the bar to shine by filling the void that is left here and doing what we say we will do as a legal community. We hold this brotherhood and sisterhood in high regard.”
In a similar vein, Meggett also urges the legal community to support members of the law school’s alumni association.
“I don’t want any of those folks to get shunned,” Meggett said. “They have passed the bar and done what they were supposed to do; they need to be embraced. They are going to be out there for the next 40, 50, 60 years, and I hope the bar will embrace them. They should feel proud.”
The Next Chapter
Paul Meggett is a family man, and his family included the students, faculty and staff of the law school.
“Our students were more than our students,” Meggett said. “We really cared about our people. Last spring when we lost access to Title IV funding, so many of the faculty and staff opened their homes to students who needed a place to stay because they could not pay rent or stock up on food and cleaning supplies or purchase bus passes. They even gave them money, not loans, but money out of their pockets, because what good does it do to show up for class when your belly is empty?
“That has been missing from the most of the reports; it’s all been about what the school did or didn’t do. It has all been about outcomes, and all of that is important, but this piece is important too. There has been a family structure here where by and large you were not here just so we could teach you, you were here so that we could develop you and show you what it means to give back to this community.
“We held that responsibility in high regard and many of the students who came through these doors felt that and appreciated it.”
Meggett does not know what the future holds for him, although he plans on staying in Charlotte. This is his hometown, and it’s where he and his wife have three children who are all in high school.
“I still feel like teaching is my passion,” Meggett said. “I have been teaching law for 12 years and I think I’m good at it. I enjoyed practicing law but I haven’t practiced in six years, so I don’t know if I am going back in and shake off the rust.
“I am going to take some time and decompress. I am a man of faith, and I have been praying about it to see where God might lead me next.”
Rest assured, wherever that may be, Paul Meggett can enter with his head held high.