The American Bar Association has censured a second law school in the span of a month for violating its accreditation rules.
The University of Kansas School of Law must pay a $50,000 fine for admitting two foreign attorneys into a new LL.M. program that the ABA had not approved. Two weeks earlier, the ABA fined Rutgers School of Law-Camden $25,000 for admitting students who had not taken the Law School Admission Test.
The ABA does not accredit any degree program other than the Juris Doctor, but law schools that want to add LL.M.s or other non-J.D. programs must gain the organization’s “acquiescence.” Law schools must demonstrate to the ABA that any new degree program will not detract from their J.D. programs.
Kansas ran afoul of that ABA rule in January 2012 when it began advertising a new LL.M. program in American Legal Studies for foreign-trained lawyers, according to the censure notice.
Neither the ABA nor the Kansas Board of Regents had approved the program when two foreign students arrived in August 2012 to begin their studies. That oversight led to logistical problems when the two students tried to enroll.
Kansas law dean Stephen Mazza said in an interview that administrators mistakenly believed that they did not need to seek the ABA’s acquiescence because the school has had permission to offer an LL.M. in elder law since 2003. (The two foreign students eventually enrolled in the elder law LL.M., even though that program is intended for students holding J.D.s)
“As a result of this incident, the law school has adopted new procedures to prevent such an error in the future,” Mazza said. “We got ahead of ourselves, and we regret the error.”
However, the ABA censure alleges that Kansas administrators misled them about the status of the new LL.M. program. The school applied to the regents for permission to award an LL.M. in American Legal Studies at the same time that it was arguing to the ABA that the new program should fall under the umbrella of the earlier acquiescence. The school did not disclose the regents application to the ABA, according to the censure notice.
“At best, the Law School’s conduct in that regard was grossly negligent,” the ABA wrote. “Moreover, the Law School demonstrated an absence of candor, when it failed to voluntarily inform the Consultant’s Office or the Committee that students had already been admitted to the Program and were enrolled in the Law School.”
Mazza denied that the school purposefully misled the ABA.
“From our perspective, there wasn’t a lack of candor,” he said. “It was a misunderstanding of what was required and when it was required. When we discovered that we had misunderstood the rule, we applied for acquiescence.”
The ABA signed off on the LL.M. program in April, and one of the two initial foreign students has since completed the degree; the second is in the process.
In addition to paying the ABA $50,000—which will be used to help ensure compliance with its rules—the law school must post the censure on its website for a year.
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