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Online Law Grad Denied Admission in Georgia

As two of the original 13 colonies that rose up against British rule in the United States, Georgia and Massachusetts share common legal roots. But in addressing the current-day question of bar admission for graduates of online law schools, they have come down on opposite sides.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Georgia issued a ruling that a 2009 graduate of the online law school Northwestern California University School of Law is not eligible for bar admission in that state. A year ago -- almost to the day -- the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reached the opposite result, deciding that a graduate of the wholly online Concord Law School would be allowed to take the Massachusetts bar examination.

In both cases, the applicants sought waiver of the requirement that they be graduates of an ABA-accredited law school. In the earlier Massachusetts case, the SJC emphasized that its decision in favor of applicant Ross E. Mitchell was confined to the unique circumstances of his case. Mitchell had already 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 admission case, had provided a "positive illustration of his skills."

The applicant in the Georgia case, Joyce K. Batterson, bears some parallels to Mitchell in her prior achievements. In addition to graduating from NWCU in July 2009, she completed her master of laws degree that same month from a second online law school, Thomas Jefferson School of Law. While NWCU is unaccredited (except in California), TJSL's LL.M. program is accredited by the ABA. Batterson had passed California's bar exam for first-year law students in 2004 and the MPRE in 2006. She is a nationally certified paralegal who has been employed as a legal assistant and paralegal since 1990.

Ironically, it was neither accreditation nor qualifications that lost Batterson her bid for bar admission in Georgia. It was paperwork. The Supreme Court said it would consider waiving the accreditation requirement "for good cause shown by clear and convincing evidence." That evidence would have to include proof that the non-accredited school provided a legal education on par with that of an accredited school. The Board of Bar Examiners had told Batterson that she could establish that equivalency by providing a letter from the dean or the dean's designee at an ABA-approved law school providing an analysis of her legal education.

She provided a letter from the dean of her non-accredited school and letters from an associate dean at the accredited TJSL program. While the TJSL letters praised Batterson, they "contained only general conclusions" about the quality of her legal education, the Supreme Court said. For this reason, it affirmed the board's denial of her application. "Batterson's petition was denied because she did not provide what the Board expressly required," the court said.

As for Concord grad Ross Mitchell, he went on to pass the bar exam and, in June, to become the first online law school graduate to be admitted to the Massachusetts bar. Perhaps Batterson should consider a career in this other original colony.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on November 24, 2009 at 12:00 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)


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