IndyBar urges caution in response to proposal to allow graduates of non-ABA-approved school to take state bar

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The Indianapolis Bar Association has registered some concerns with proposed changes that would allow a graduate of a non-American Bar Association-accredited law school to petition to take the Indiana bar exam.

The bar association submitted comments to the Indiana Supreme Court regarding the proposed changes for who can take the state’s bar exam.

The high court released its proposed changes to Rule 13 in November. Graduates from fully online schools, like Purdue University Global Law School, would be allowed to take the Indiana bar exam under the proposed changes.

However, IndyBar in its submitted comments, stated that it doesn’t fully approve of the changes.

“Historically, Rule 13 has served as a means to ensure the highest possible quality of representation for Indiana’s citizens. We are acutely aware that Indiana (and many other states) are suffering through a shortage of lawyers — especially lawyers who are able to serve Hoosiers in rural areas. We understand and acknowledge that the current proposals to modify Rule 13 are designed to alleviate this shortage. We salute this goal and agree with the Court that it is an important effort,” the association stated. “That said, and as explained in greater detail below, our request to the Court is that it proceed slowly and cautiously as it considers what we believe to be substantial departures from well-established practices and procedures for the admission of lawyers to the Bar of the State of Indiana.”

IndyBar listed three concerns with the proposed changes for the high court to consider: “(1) Will the acceptance of students from non-ABA-approved law schools lead to an even greater gap in practical, experiential education of students before they begin practicing law; (2) Will the proposed modification of Rule 13 lead to increased access to service in Indiana’s rural areas; and (3) Does the all-volunteer Board of Law Examiners have the resources to conduct the case-by-case review of applications contemplated by the proposed amendment?”

The association noted that ABA accreditation sets a benchmark of courses that are required and prepare students and added that, in light of the request from Purdue University Global, it is important to address the impact of a fully online law school.

“We have seen firsthand the effects that the recent pandemic had on students at Indiana’s traditional law schools. For over a year, these schools effectively became online law schools. The young lawyers who graduated into the profession over the past two years were deprived of many of the experiences and interactive programs that our law schools recently have added to their curricula, and their education was diminished as a result. Such deprivations are the root of our concern,” IndyBar stated.

The bar association also expressed concerns that the proposed modifications to Rule 13 would make those temporary gaps in legal education become permanent for a subset of lawyers, and asked that the high court consider implementing some sort of experiential training program or obligation, such as clerkships or internships, as a prerequisite for admission by graduates of online only law schools.

In its comments, IndyBar noted that it doesn’t not think the proposed changes will alleviate the lawyer shortage in Indiana.

“However, we see no data or anecdotal evidence to suggest that students at non-ABA-approved schools, who are scattered across the nation (indeed, even Purdue Global’s law school is based in California) will set up practices in rural communities in Indiana. Likewise, our anecdotal experience suggests that foreign law graduates are unlikely to practice law in those communities most adversely affected by a shortage of lawyers in rural Indiana communities,” the bar association stated in its comments.

While IndyBar opposes the proposed changes, the Indiana State Bar Association supported the changes in its submitted comments.

Recently, the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions opened comments on a proposal that would give accreditation to online-only law schools.

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