Raising the Bar: Law Schools and Legal Institutions Leading to Educate Undocumented Students

91 Pages Posted: 20 Jan 2012 Last revised: 1 Jan 2013

See all articles by Raquel E. Aldana

Raquel E. Aldana

UC Davis

Beth Lyon

Cornell University - Law School

Karla Mari McKanders

Vanderbilt University, School of Law

Date Written: 2012


This paper explores the adoption of best practices for the admission and graduation of undocumented students as lawyers and promoting their integration into the legal profession. Law schools are already both knowingly and unknowingly admitting and graduating undocumented students. It is our contention in this paper, after careful analysis, that no law precludes law schools from admitting undocumented students, offering them in-state tuition or other types of private and even public financial aid in states that permit it, or allowing them to participate fully in the law schools’ educational opportunities. We acknowledge that there are tensions around the decision to educate undocumented law students. Law schools should worry about the appropriateness of graduating lawyers with high debt burdens and no prospects for paid employment inside the United States. For some, the admission and graduation of undocumented law students may also raise other types of resource allocation or moral dilemmas, such as how and whether a person’s immigration status should bear upon determination of character and fitness of practice law. This piece aims to be precise and nuanced about the legal, practical, and moral challenges law schools face in enrolling undocumented students. The paper focuses on three main areas. First, the paper examines the application of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) 2011-2012 Standards and Rules of Procedure for Approval of Law Schools (the “Standards”) and American Association of Law Schools minimum requirements to the education of undocumented law students. The paper also considers state rules on bar admission and examines impediments in some states to sitting for the bar examination. Second, the paper outlines current laws governing financial aid for undocumented students and their eligibility to participate in educational experiential opportunities while in law school. This section also puts to rest the misperception that an educational institution may be held liable under the Immigration and Nationality Act’s harboring provisions for admitting undocumented student. Finally, the paper outlines best practices for guiding undocumented law students from admission through beginning their legal career.

Suggested Citation

Aldana, Raquel E. and Lyon, Beth and McKanders, Karla Mari, Raising the Bar: Law Schools and Legal Institutions Leading to Educate Undocumented Students (2012). Arizona State Law Journal, Forthcoming, Pacific McGeorge School of Law Research Paper, University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 168, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1988396 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1988396

Raquel E. Aldana (Contact Author)

UC Davis ( email )

One Shields Avenue
Apt 153
Davis, CA 95616
United States

Beth Lyon

Cornell University - Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States

Karla Mari McKanders

Vanderbilt University, School of Law ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
615-322-3092 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://https://law.vanderbilt.edu/bio/karla-mckanders

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