New type of bar downtown

Jon Talton
The Republic

Mar. 23, 2004

Sterling Capital Partners hopes to open its for-profit law school in downtown Phoenix by next January, enrolling 75 students. Tentative name: Phoenix International School of Law.

The private equity fund had recently purchased the old Republic & Gazette Building at First Street and Van Buren.

Last week, I spent some time with Donald Lively, who is leading Sterling's project here. Sterling is interested in building several law schools around the country in cities that are "underserved in legal education," Lively said. Phoenix and Charlotte, N.C., are the first cities chosen. Sterling reportedly has $315 million to spend on acquisitions in education and other areas.

Lively was founder and chancellor at Florida Coastal School of Law in Jacksonville, which was purchased by Sterling earlier this year.

Elements of the project are still being tweaked, including tuition costs. Lively said plans call for an initial 75 students, growing to 300 or 400.

Lively said Phoenix International would seek niches beyond the specialties of ASU's law school. He met me in Midtown after coming from a "get-to-know-you" meeting with ASU law officials.

"I'll be honest, we'll start as a fourth-tier school," he said. "But in a few years, we'll be a second tier." He promised the school would offer academic excellence and community involvement. "We won't be a bottom-feeder," he said. A tougher chore can be winning over local lawyers to the concept of a for-profit school, "but we've done that in Jacksonville."

The Jacksonville school, founded in 1994, has 685 students and is accredited by the American Bar Association. It has more than 600 alumni. Full-time student tuition is $10,650 per semester, and financial aid is available.

ASU is preparing to create a substantial downtown campus. Lively said that because Phoenix International has its own building, the project wouldn't get in ASU's way.

So can the center city support two higher-education institutions? No. It can support three, four, five . . .