In June, at the urging of the Institute for Justice, the Minnesota Supreme Court ended the American Bar Association’s (ABA) stranglehold over legal education by chang- ing the state’s admission rules to allow licensed attorneys from other states to sit for the Minnesota bar examination even if they graduated from a non-ABA-accredited law school. The ruling is a victory not only for those who wish to practice law in the state, but also for consumers who will now enjoy greater choice among attorneys, and therefore can expect to pay lower prices for legal representation.
Before this stunning rebuke to Minnesota’s legal establish- ment, anyone who wanted to become a licensed attorney in Minnesota had to earn a law degree from a law school accred- ited by the ABA. This meant that licensed lawyers who gradu- ated from one of more than 40 state-accredited and registered law schools in the country could not practice in Minnesota.
This rule prohibited graduates of more affordable law schools from practicing because the ABA requires law schools to meet unnecessary requirements to be accredited, such as large law libraries, and does not recognize schools that offer primarily online or distance-learning programs.
“The ABA, State Bar Association and the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners fought against common sense reform at every turn,” said Lee McGrath, executive director of the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter, which supported the petition to the Minnesota Supreme Court to change its rule. “But because of the court’s decision, Minnesota consumers will have access to a wider range of qualified attorneys, including those willing to compete by offering more affordable rates. A competitive mar- ketplace is the best regulator and serves consumers far better than a handful of overseers appointed by the industry itself.”
Micah Stanley and three other licensed attorneys asked the court to reconsider the rule in 2009.
“I received an outstanding legal education and passed one of the toughest bar exams in the country—the California bar,” said Stanley, a graduate of non-ABA-accredited Oak Brook College of Law and Government Policy. “I am thrilled that lawyers in similar situations will be permitted to work in Minnesota. Not only has the Minnesota Supreme Court finally opened the doors to alternative online education within the state’s legal community, but it signaled to other high courts across the nation that the ABA’s accreditation monopoly stands no more.”
Minnesota’s new rule is similar to a rule that the Wisconsin Supreme Court adopted in 1998. Approximately 30 attorneys who graduated from non-ABA-accredited laws schools have since become licensed to practice law in Wisconsin. Importantly, there is no evidence of increased malpractice, as none of those attorneys has been disciplined during the more than 12 years since the more liberal rule went into effect.
“This is just one example of a national problem in which industry cartels use government power to protect themselves from competition,” said Chip Mellor, IJ’s president and general counsel. “Protecting economic liberty and ending government- enforced cartels require judicial engagement—a willingness by the courts to confront what is often really going on when the government enacts licensing laws supposedly to protect the public. We are pleased that the Minnesota Supreme Court demonstrated its willingness to be engaged in this important issue of economic liberty.”