Tuesday, February 28, 2012

New York bar examiners say "Nyet" to online law school grads

The Second Circuit so ruled on February 16, 2012. Click here for the summary order. Below is write-up from the BNA Electronic Commerce and Law Report (subscription required).

Online Law Grads Can't Take N.Y. Bar Exam

New York has the right to keep graduates of online law schools from taking the state's bar examination, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit decided Feb. 16 (Bazadier v. McAlary, 2d Cir., No. 10-4956, 2/16/12).
In an unpublished summary order, the court endorsed the conclusion of the district court that the admissions rules at issue do not violate applicants' rights to equal protection or freedom of association.
The lawsuit was filed by Frank A. Bazadier, a 1999 graduate of Northwestern California School of Law, an online correspondence law school not accredited by the ABA. He was admitted to practice law in California. When Bazadier applied to take the New York bar exam, however, he learned that he was ineligible because he graduated from a correspondence law school.
District Judge Gary L. Sharpe decided that the complaint did not allege a viable equal protection claim. In his opinion, Sharpe found that Bazadier simply invoked the First Amendment in conclusory language without stating any facts to support his claim that the bar exam rules constitute content-based restrictions on speech and association.
The state argued, Sharpe noted, that the different treatment of correspondence-based study is rationally related to the state's interest in ensuring a competent bar. Correspondence-based study lacks the direct supervision typical of classroom-based education, the state contended, and therefore provides less assurance that work is actually being done by the enrolled student and that the student is getting an adequate legal education. Sharpe credited this argument and found that it provides a rational basis for disqualifying bar applicants who studied law through correspondence.
Describing the district court opinion as “thorough and well-reasoned,” the court of appeals affirmed. Rational basis was the correct standard of review, the court ruled, because Bazadier's claims did not implicate a fundamental right or a suspect class. The challenged rules “are not based upon the content of the instruction provided by a law school and do not favor or disfavor any form of speech on the ideas or views expressed,” the court said. “Rather, the Rules are occupational regulations that express a preference for one form of legal pedagogy over another.”


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To clarify, I believe your interpretation of the holding of this case is too broad.

The opinion states that graduates of "correspondence based study" may be denied admission to the NY State Bar. Online law schools are either "distance-learning" or "correspondence" as classified by the State Bar of California, the only state that allows graduates of either type of online program to sit for their bar exam, see State Bar of California website distinguishing distance learning education from correspondence education, http://admissions.calbar.ca.gov/Education/LegalEducation/LawSchools.aspx#distance

There is an important distinction between the two types of online law schools. Distance-learning schools are law schools that "conducts instruction and provides interactive classes principally by technological means" such as California School of Law, whereas correspondence schools are described as "conducts instruction primarily by correspondence" such as Northwestern California University School of Law (which this complainant graduated from and which you incorrectly called "Northwestern California School of Law").

Thus since the opinion specifically states "correspondence based study" may be denied admission and not "online based study" then the plain meaning of the words used by the court, the court did not deny admission to the state bar of NY all graduates of "online" schools as this posting suggests but only graduates of "correspondence based study" law programs.

Posted by: Jane | Mar 14, 2012 6:14:52 PM

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