CBJ - January 2009 #05. Court win for online law school grad.

Author:By Kristina Horton Flaherty

California Bar Journal


CBJ - January 2009 #05.

Court win for online law school grad

California Bar Journal January 2009 Court win for online law school gradBy Kristina Horton FlahertyStaff WriterWhen Ross Mitchell graduated from the nation's first online-only law school four years ago, he knew that the school's lack of American Bar Association (ABA) approval would disqualify him from taking the Massachusetts bar examination.

But he sought permission anyway, taking his case all the way to the state's Supreme Judicial Court - and, in November, he got it.

"Hopefully, before too long, there will be a less laborious way, a less time-consuming way, for someone in my position to come into Massachusetts and take the bar exam here," said Mitchell, 56, a 2004 graduate of Los Angeles-based Concord Law School.

Unlike California, most other states require graduation from an ABA-approved law school - at least for U.S.-trained applicants - to sit for the bar exam. Online-only law schools cannot, however, qualify for ABA approval under current ABA standards.

In its Nov. 20 ruling, the Massachusetts high court did not address Mitchell's equal protection arguments and Associate Justice Margot Botsford stressed that the ruling applied only to Mitchell's particular case.

The court, with one dissenting opinion, waived the law school accreditation requirement in Mitchell's case for two reasons. The first focused on Mitchell's individual record. An outstanding law student, he passed the California bar exam on his first try and got a high score on the professional responsibility exam. And, representing himself, he "filed briefs and gave an oral argument in this court that were of commendable quality, providing us with a concrete and positive illustration of his skills in legal analysis, legal writing and advocacy," Botsford wrote.

But a recently launched review of the ABA's approval standards influenced the court as well. "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," Botsford wrote. But she noted that "the situation with respect to online programs may change in the reasonably near future."

Mitchell, a longtime...

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