Suit alleges InfiLaw paid poor performers $5K to delay taking the bar exam
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Updated: A graduate of Arizona Summit Law School claims in a lawsuit (PDF) that school owner InfiLaw offers poorly performing students $5,000 to delay taking the bar exam.
The suit by law grad Paula Lorona says InfiLaw offered the payment to students at all three of its law schools who were designated as likely to fail, the National Law Journal reports. The school chose the students beginning in May 2014 using a “bar exam failure predictor formula” that took into account LSAT scores and grades in college and law school, the suit says.
In addition to Arizona Summit Law School, InfiLaw owns Florida Coastal School of Law and Charlotte School of Law. InfiLaw dropped a bid to buy a fourth school, Charleston School of Law.
Lorona’s pro se suit says she was among the students offered $5,000 by InfiLaw. Lorona declined, took the bar and passed. She says she was offered the payment because she didn’t participate in the school’s bar prep course. Her suit, filed in Arizona state court, was removed to federal court. She has until June 15 to file an amended complaint, according to court documents.
Lorona attended the school part-time while working there as an assistant director of financial aid and a student accounts manager. Her suit claims the school fired her in 2013 because she refused to submit false state tax documents and because she complained about what she believed to be deceptive marketing about student success. She claims retaliatory discharge and consumer fraud
Lorona alleged she was asked to file documents claiming the school opened in 2008, rather than the actual date in 2005, because the school had failed to pay sales taxes during the earlier years. She also claimed the school aimed to inflate its bar passage rate with the $5,000 payments, and gave misleading information about bar passage rates and the success of students who enter the school through an alternative admissions program.
The school is represented by Quarles & Brady. Lawyer Nicole Stanton told the National Law Journal that Lorona’s claims are without merit and the firm plans a vigorous defense. Arizona Summit dean Shirley Mays told the publication that an outside auditor assists the school with tax filings, and its job placement statistics are also audited by a third party.
Mays later told the National Law Journal (sub. req.) that the school paid students a $1,000 monthly stipend to participate in an “unlock potential” program to prepare for the bar exam. She said the program is justified because it fives students about four months rather than 10 weeks to study for the bar exam. The payments are contingent on completion of the program, and students have to pay $2,550 for the course.
The fear wasn’t a possible loss of accreditation, she told the National Law Journal. “What we are concerned about is assisting our students in passing the bar.”
Updated on June 12 to include Mays’ comments on the “unlock potential” program.