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Online Law Grad Sidesteps Accreditation Hurdle

Logo_concord For the first time in Massachusetts, and perhaps for the first time anywhere outside California, a graduate of an online, unaccredited law school will be permitted to take the state bar examination. Ross E. Mitchell, a graduate of the wholly online Concord Law School, was initially denied permission to take the Massachusetts bar exam, based on the state's rule that applicants be graduates of law schools accredited by the American Bar Association. He sued the state Board of Bar Examiners, contending that the rule was unconstitutional as applied to him or, alternatively, seeking waiver of the rule in his case. In a decision issued yesterday, Mitchell v. Board of Bar Examiners, the state Supreme Judicial Court held that Mitchell is entitled to a waiver of the rule and will be allowed to take the bar exam.

In an opinion written by Justice Margot Botsford, the SJC emphasized that its decision to grant a waiver was confined to the unique circumstances surrounding Mitchell's case. The court cited a number of factors personal to him, including that he had been admitted to practice both in California and before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, had a stellar academic record and was valedictorian of his class, had scored well on the California bar exam and on the MPRE, and, through his representation of himself in his own case, had provided a "positive illustration of his skills."

But Mitchell's excellent personal record, alone, would not lead it to grant a waiver, the SJC said. Also a factor was the ABA's recent announcement that it is beginning a comprehensive review of its approval standards that will include consideration of schools providing instruction online. "[I]n view of the fact that an online legal education program such as Concord's cannot qualify for ABA approval under the current ABA standards and that the situation with respect to online programs may change in the reasonably near future, equitable considerations weigh in favor of granting Mitchell a waiver of the ABA approval requirement in this case," Botsford wrote. Justice Roderick L. Ireland dissented, writing that he would await the results of the ABA review rather than grant Mitchell's request for a waiver.

Founded in 1998, Concord Law School is owned by Kaplan Inc. California is the only state that permits its graduates to apply for admission to the bar. I could find no references to Concord graduates obtaining admission in other states. If you know of examples, please comment below.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on November 21, 2008 at 10:06 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)


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