American Bar Association / ABA, Law Schools, LLMs

Kansas Law Censure: ABA Fines School For Trying To Make Money Without Asking Nicely First

This punishment is more harsh than anything the ABA will do to a law school.

Jokes about basketball aside, the ABA’s decision to censure and fine the University of Kansas School of Law is bewildering. I mean, I get why the ABA would want to punish Kansas; the school did something that is kind of obviously wrong. But what’s confusing is that KU’s infraction is just a different form of what law schools do every day.

Why is the ABA singling out Kansas Law as opposed to 50 or 100 other schools? Well, as clear as I can tell, it’s because KU didn’t ask permission before it bamboozled foreign students.

Of course, luckily for Kansas, the penalties from the ABA are so toothless that KU will probably barely notice the hypocrisy….

We all know how this works: foreign students get LL.M degrees so they can sit for a bar exam, the school gets paid, nobody questions the validity of the system. KU Law wanted to get in on this gravy train, so they created an “American Legal Studies” LL.M. The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that “[t]he degree was marketed to foreign students to prepare them for legal studies in the United States or to sit for the New York state bar exam.”

Haha… you got to love law schools. Let’s get some kids in Germany to pay KANSAS a lot of money to take the bar in NEW YORK. Can you imagine how well this “program” would work if Kansas State had a law school? “Come to Manhattan… and sit for the bar in New York City.”

In any event, Kansas asked the ABA for approval — approval that they were sure to get. But instead of waiting for the ABA’s rubber stamp, Kansas went ahead and started marketing the program anyway. Somehow, two foreign students were so jazzed about the program that they couldn’t wait to give Kansas their money. Kansas should have told the students that they had to wait for ABA approval, but when was the last time you saw a law school turn DOWN money? Are you kidding me? Law school applications are at all-time lows. OF COURSE KANSAS TOOK THEIR MONEY. They took their money and found something for them to do:

The university’s registrar informed law school administrators two foreign students who arrived on campus in August 2012 to enter the American studies program couldn’t enroll because the master’s degree hadn’t been approved by the Kansas Board of Regents.

KU decided to enroll the students in the elder law master’s degree program despite the fact neither student had a juris doctorate from an ABA-approved law school and didn’t satisfy admission requirements for the university’s elder law program.

During a June 2013 hearing before the ABA committee, according to the censure document released by the ABA, the KU law school dean said the problem was explained to the foreign students.

However, the ABA’s report said, “No written communication with these students advised them either that Board of Regents approval or ABA acquiescence was required and had not been granted.”

Okay, step back a second. Kansas enrolled the students in a program before it knew if the program would work. Kansas told kids that it could do something that it didn’t in fact know it could do. Doesn’t this happen EVERY FREAKING SEMESTER at law schools around the country? Aren’t law schools always promising students one thing through marketing while giving students something completely different? It violates ABA protocol to knowingly mislead students without explaining the risks and consequences in written form? OH REALLY? Maybe the ABA should investigate some other representations made by law schools that turn out to be materially untrue.

If anything, KU’s subterfuge here is less damaging than most, because the ABA was going to approve the stupid LL.M. program anyway. God forbid the ABA ever does anything to impinge upon a law school’s ability to make money off of foreigners. For the love of God, the thing that they enrolled the students in was “Elder Law.” Let’s not act like the ABA gives a hoot about what slop you dole out to foreign students in exchange for their tuition checks. Misleading people about the timing of something seems less offensive to me than misleading people about their employment prospects. Is there any chance the ABA could look into that?

Whatever, even if the ABA decided to give a crap about the systemic inflation of job statistics across legal education, the penalties the ABA levies for violations are laughable. Kansas Law is being fined $50,000, and it has to “prominently display” the censure notice on its website.

This seems like a good time to mention that one of the foreign students in question finished the program and the other one is still enrolled. So, you know, KU probably MADE MONEY off of this, despite the fine. You’d think that the ABA might want to direct Kansas to give those kids their money back… since the school LIED to them and all. But no. The ABA comes out with a de minimis fine, the students still have to pay, and the school is free to continue on its quest to find more people to fleece educate.

I’m honestly not sure how this regulatory system could be any worse. Pirate captains implement more “tough but fair” regulatory oversight than the ABA crew.

University of Kansas School of Law censured, fined for ‘willful’ accrediting violations [ABA Journal]
KU law school fined $50,000 for degree miscue [Topeka Capital-Journal]

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