Legal Education

Graduate of Non-ABA-Accredited Law School Can Take Mass. Bar Exam

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has waived the usual requirement that all takers of the state bar examination must be graduates of an ABA-accredited law school for a licensed California attorney who got his law degree in 2004 from Concord Law School, a non-ABA-accredited online institution.

Describing Ross Mitchell as an individual who achieved an “exemplary degree of success” in law school, the court voted 6-1 in a decision released yesterday to allow Mitchell—and, at least potentially, other online law school graduates—to take the state bar. However, it “noted that the exception is limited to those with strong records in competitive programs,” GateHouse News Service reported.

Another significant factor is that the American Bar Association is reviewing its law school accreditation standards, the court states in its written opinion (link provided by GateHouse).

“The ABA, through its Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, has recently announced that it is undertaking a comprehensive review of its approval standards. Information supplied by the ABA indicates that the comprehensive review will include consideration of schools and programs using online distance learning, an issue that has concerned this court,” the opinion recounts.

“As the comprehensive review begins, we have no way of knowing or predicting what recommendations, if any, will be forthcoming in relation to online legal education programs or methodologies. However, in 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—given the evidence that he has satisfied the educational purposes of the rule.”

A dissenting judge said that the court should await the results of the ABA’s review of law school accreditation standards before acting.

Mitchell represented himself pro se in the litigation.

Additional coverage:

Social Law Library Research Portal: “Ross E. Mitchell v. Board of Bar Examiners”

Suffolk University Law School: “Mitchell v. Board of Bar Examiners” (includes link to oral argument)

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