Law Schools Win
FAMU students to be able to sit for Bar exam
TALLAHASSEE DEMOCRAT POLITICAL EDITOR
June 5, 2004
The jury has returned, the verdict is in and it's everything Florida A&M University was hoping to attain.
A screening committee of the American Bar Association has voted unanimously to give provisional accreditation to FAMU's fledgling law school. After listening to curriculum presentations, making site visits and checking many technical details, the ABA Council of the Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar also gave a green light to Florida International University's law school during a meeting in Washington, D.C.
"It's a very significant step in the pathway of restoring our law school and preparing African-American lawyers and other minority law students for their practice," FAMU President Fred Gainous said Friday. "It's a signal day for Florida, recognizing the governor's and Legislature's leadership in bringing this about. It's a significant landmark."
Gainous and Dean Percy Luney, who heads the law school in Orlando, said they expect formal written notice of the council's decision within a few days. But the ABA told them and Dean Leonard Strickman, who runs FIU's law school in Miami, after the schools made their presentations to the council Thursday.
"The letter may contain some additional instructions, but this is about as close as possible to being all we need to know," Gainous told the Tallahassee Democrat. "This means our students can sit for the Bar examination upon completion of their law studies."
Luney said the next step is validation of the council's decision by the ABA House of Delegates at a meeting Aug. 5-10 in Atlanta. The FAMU and FIU provisional accreditation recommendations will be on a "consent docket" for the delegates, virtually guaranteeing approval.
"We worked very diligently toward accreditation and this recommendation is the recognition of our work," Luney said.
Provisional accreditation means nearly 400 law students will be able to take the Bar exam when they graduate, starting next year. Both FAMU and FIU schools are in their second years of operation so their students have at least another year of study.
Luney said there are "roughly 202" students attending the FAMU school. Strickman said FIU has 190 law students.
With evening classes and a central location, the FAMU school brought opportunities to many students who otherwise couldn't try for a law degree. FIU, with a heavily Hispanic enrollment, also serves a large urban student base.
"That's wonderful. I'm real pleased with the quality of leadership that we have in both law schools," said Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, who fought for FAMU's school for about 10 years in the House. "It was a real long process in order to bring us where we are today, but I'm real happy that the quality of leadership we've got enabled us to do this."
Strickman said "the news is good for both of us." He said the ABA delegates can send the recommendation back to the council for reconsideration but cannot reject provisional accreditation.
"It's a final decision, subject to the acquiescence of the House of Delegates," said Strickman. "It would be unprecedented for them to even seek reconsideration. With a unanimous recommendation, the chances that it would be overturned are very remote."
Restoration of its law school has been a long-sought goal and a sensitive point of pride for FAMU. The historically black university had a law school in Tallahassee before integration, but the Legislature abandoned it in the late 1960s.
About the same time, Florida State University graduates were beginning to gain power in the Capitol - so FSU got its law school.
Lawson, who attended both FAMU and FSU, said legislators left the FAMU law school in the budget "but didn't fund it." He said some of its books actually were moved to FSU when the larger campus got its law school.
The old Board of Regents opposed restoration of the law school, contending that the millions of dollars in start-up costs could be better spent helping to get more minority students into existing schools. After making a few failed attempts at creating FIU and FAMU schools separately, black Democrats and Hispanic Republicans joined in a coalition - making a package deal for the universities.