IN Supreme Court allowing grads of non-ABA-accredited schools to take Indiana bar under new waiver provisions

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The Indiana Supreme Court will allow graduates of non-American Bar Association-accredited law schools to sit for the Indiana bar exam under waiver provisions approved Thursday.

In the Thursday order, the Supreme Court created a new Admission and Discipline Rule 13, which includes a new Section 4 providing that the Board of Law Examiners may waive the educational qualification requirements to take the Indiana bar in two situations:

  • If an applicant graduated from a non-ABA-accredited law school in the United States, was eligible upon graduation to take the bar in another state, and the BLE finds the applicant is qualified by education or experience to take the Indiana bar.
  • If the applicant completed legal education outside the U.S., obtained a graduate degree from an ABA-approved law school in a program based on American law, and the board finds the applicant is qualified by education or experience to take the Indiana bar.

Applicants seeking to take the Indiana bar under Section 4’s waiver provisions must provide the BLE with various materials including their undergraduate and law school transcripts, a narrative statement, data on their law school’s bar exam results and the applicants own bar exam results, if applicable, among other documentation.

“The Board should grant a waiver when doing so would be in the public interest after balancing all relevant factors including the applicant’s educational history and achievement, work history and achievement, bar exam results from other jurisdictions, desire to practice law in Indiana, and familiarity with the American legal system,” the order says. “The Board’s decision is subject to final approval.”

The rule amendment is formally about one year in the making but is part of a longer conversation about how to address Indiana’s lawyer shortage.

The leading proponent of the change has been Purdue Global Law School, formerly known as Concord Law School, an online-only law school based in California — currently the only state where its graduates can take the bar.

Last March, Purdue University submitted a proposal to the Supreme Court that would allow graduates of certain non-ABA-accredited law schools, including Purdue Global, to take the Indiana bar if the law school was accredited by one or more state, regional or national bodies that specifically accredit law schools, and if the school was operated by or affiliated with an Indiana-based educational institution whose legal education program/degree has been approved by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

That proposal was met with resistance by various entities including the Indiana State and Indianapolis bar associations.

In November, the court released its own proposal. The ISBA gave its support to that version, although IndyBar continued to urge caution.

Thursday’s order also created new Sections 1-3 of Rule 13.

Section 1, on Educational Qualifications, provides that an applicant for admission to the Indiana bar must have a J.D. from an ABA-approved law school — although the Supreme Court reserves the right to “disapprove of any school regardless of ABA approval — and must have completed two semester hours of ethics or professional responsibility in law school.

The exceptions laid out in the new Section 4 would apply to applicants seeking a waiver of the new Section 1 requirements.

The new Section 2 deals with Early Examination and provides that, “An applicant, who has fewer than five hours to complete and is within one-hundred days of graduating from an ABA-approved law school, has satisfactorily passed work in the subject matter as set forth in Section 1, and has otherwise completed all requirements for admission to the bar, may take the examination but may not be admitted to the Indiana bar until the applicant has met all other requirements for admission and has graduated from an ABA-approved law school.”

Finally, the new Section 3, on Certification of Educational Qualifications, provides that a law school dean “shall certify an applicant’s completion of the subject-matter requirements under this rule and must file such certification with the Board at least twenty days before the examination.”

The amendments will take effect July 1.

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