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Law schools at FIU, FAMU move ahead


Two newly accredited law schools in Miami and Orlando should increase the number of black and Hispanic practitioners of law in the state.

The 2-year-old law schools of Florida International University in Miami and Florida A&M University in Orlando won provisional accreditation Monday from the American Bar Association.

Accreditation allows their graduates to sit for the bar examination to become practicing lawyers in any state.

The institutions became the state's third and fourth accredited public law schools when the ABA's House of Delegates in Atlanta approved provisional accreditation without discussion. The University of Florida and Florida State University have law schools, as do six private universities in the state.

The approvals were widely considered a formality after both schools earned the most critical endorsement, from the ABA's Council of the Section on Legal Education, in June. Still, the vote marked the completion of a long journey to credibility.

''It really is a signal moment for our students because this is what assures them they'll be admitted to practice law once they pass the bar examinations and the character committees of the state bars which they may seek to join,'' said Leonard Strickman, dean of FIU's law school. ``There has clearly been a market for both schools, with no observable injury done to the existing law schools in Florida.''

About 50 law students will be in FIU's first graduating class next May. With this fall's incoming full-time and part-time students, the school will have about 290 prospective lawyers enrolled.

SCHOOL RETURNS

For historically black FAMU, approval of the new law school brought the school full circle. Between 1949 and 1968, FAMU operated a fully accredited law school -- one of only two at the time -- until the Legislature withdrew funding. FAMU, though based in Tallahassee, operates its law school in Orlando.

''It's a red-letter day for FAMU, for the state of Florida and even the nation to have this law school return to the university, and almost at warp speed receive provisional accreditation,'' FAMU President Fred Gainous said.

DIVERSITY ON BAR

The accreditation of the schools is expected to bring greater ethnic diversity to the Florida Bar. Both law schools have a minority majority, with Hispanics accounting for the largest ethnic group among FIU law students, and blacks the largest at FAMU. White students currently make up 40 percent to 45 percent of the student bodies at each law school.

At least two more years will be needed before the schools qualify for full accreditation, which is granted only after a college graduates its first class and completes additional reviews.

All students who attend a law school while it is provisionally accredited can sit for the bar exam, even in the unlikely event accreditation is later rescinded.