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Jacksonville for-profit law school
sold to venture capital firm

Associated Press
January 19, 2004

The Florida Coastal School of Law, one of only two for-profit law schools accredited by the American Bar Association, has been sold to Sterling Capital Partners, a venture capital firm.

The business deal includes plans to set up replicas of the school nationwide while moving the school's focus from training future lawyers to a wider market, including international education, corporate training and possibly teaching legal concepts to children, said Chancellor Don Lively.

"The school is living up to its potential of what it can become," Lively, a co-owner, told The Florida Times-Union for Tuesday editions.

Another arm of the venture involves starting new law schools modeled after Florida Coastal. The first two sites are in Charlotte, N.C., and Phoenix, Lively said, with the goal of opening by spring 2005. Charlotte does not have a law school, and while Phoenix has Arizona State University's law school, Lively said there's plenty of room in the market for another school.

The deal transfers ownership of the school to Sterling Capital Partners, based in Chicago and Baltimore, and moves Lively and Dennis Stone, the school's interim dean, to a holding company that will be headquartered in Jacksonville and will develop new legal education ventures, the newspaper reported.

The school, fully accredited by the ABA in August 2002, opened its doors in 1996 and is several years older than Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, Calif., the other accredited for-profit law school. The ABA accredits about 180 law schools across the country.

A spokeswoman at the ABA confirmed that the organization approved the sale late last month.

Sterling will own the school at least seven years and as many as 13, said Sterling principal Tom Wippman. He declined to reveal the purchase price of the school or how much money he hopes the venture will earn over the life of the contract.

Students and teachers were hopeful the company will begin investing in the school immediately.

"What it boils down to more than anything, they have more to bring to the table as far as money goes and investment into the school," said Michael Orr, president of the Student Bar Association. "Those are the things that are going to push this school forward."

Orr cited Sterling's promises to hire more full-time faculty and to move the campus to downtown Jacksonville.

Wippman said the school should move from its suburban office park location to downtown by 2005. He said he also wants to grow the student body to 1,000 students from its current 685.

Florida Coastal began with an initial investment of $1.5 million from a group of private investors.