A majority of States offer a pathway for foreign-educated lawyers to become licensed. Not Minnesota. Despite its tradition of welcoming immigrants and refugees, Minnesota is in the minority of States that allow only graduates of lawschools approved by the American Bar Association (ABA) to practice law. As a result, lawyers who originally trained in Somalia, Liberia, Nigeria, Cameroon, Kenya (African countries with the largest populations in the State) are not even permitted to take the Minnesota bar exam. Lawyers from other countries are also excluded.
Additionally, attorneys trained in ABA-approved lawschools carry huge debts due to the extraordinarily high cost of tuition at these schools. For example, average annual tuition for 4 lawschools in Minnesota is $27,890. As a result, newly licensed attorneys typically avoid non-profit or public service work representing clients who cannot afford representation. Immigrants, refugees and low-income communities bear the brunt of this lack of access to affordable legal services.
To help address the above problem, Henry Ongeri (a law graduate of the University of Nairobi, Kenya) teamed up with 3 other lawyers licensed in other US States to petition the Minnesota Supreme Court for a change in the bar admission rules. On August 10, 2009, the Court ordered the Minnesota Board of Law Examiners to conduct a comprehensive review and to submit a report to the Court with a recommendation. In response to the Court’s Order, the Board has
scheduled a hearing from the Petitioners and Roger Magnuson, a Minneapolis attorney. Leaders of the local religious, immigrant and
refugee communities will also attend and participate.
The public hearing will take place on November 12, 2009 at 3.45 – 7.00 p.m. at the Minnesota Judicial Center, Room G01 (Auditorium), 25 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, St. Paul, MN 55155.
More information: www.ble.state.mn.us/LegalEdCommittee.html