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Northwestern Law Student Expelled for Unauthorized Practice of Law

A student at Northwestern University’s Law School was recently expelled after the university learned that the student had been previously convicted for unauthorized practice of law in Texas in 2009.

“Practicing” Law in Mexico and Texas

The former law student, Mauricio Celis, claimed to have practiced law in Mexico several years ago.  He then founded a Texas-based personal injury law firm.  The State of Texas found that he was practicing law without a license from Texas, or even from Mexico, in 2009. The state convicted him and sentenced him to ten years of probation.  However, Celis maintained his innocence throughout the Texas trial and has ever since.  

Case Runners

The Corpus Christi area of Texas where Celis “practiced law” was unfortunately ripe for such manipulation.  One area lawyer, Carlos Cisneros, wrote a legal fiction thriller based on his experiences in the region called The Case Runner. In the book he dramatized the reputedly seedy nature of the regional legal environment where “case runners” often work with law firms to find promising cases in return for a portion of the monetary winnings from the case.  Some of the runners are lawyers themselves who keep an eye out for potential new clients and feed them to large litigation firms.  Celis acted as one of these “case runner” investigators and was very good at it, bringing in great profits for himself.  While he started out holding himself out as just an investigator, he eventually started saying that he held a law license, which most everyone believed.  Unfortunately for the attorneys who worked with him, since he did not have a law license, not only
was Celis subject to discipline, but the lawyers who worked with him were, as well.

Celis was such a good impostor that no one noticed for about five years. Another lawyer in the area had grown suspicious and looked into Celis’ background.  It turns out that Celis not only did not ever attend law school in the U.S. or Mexico, he did not even finish college.  Once that attorney brought this information forward, the state bar and prosecutors got involved and found that he had repeatedly violated state law.  Prosecutors were able to convict him on fourteen counts of falsely holding himself out as a lawyer.

Northwestern Didn’t Ask About Felonies on its Application

Celis applied, and was admitted to, Northwestern’s LLM program for active lawyers from foreign countries in 2012.  An LLM program provides additional advanced education in a certain area of law for those who already have a J.D. The application for the LLM program did not ask if Celis had been convicted of a felony, so he did not have to disclose that he was convicted for unauthorized practice of law in Texas.  Northwestern, and most other law schools, ask that question for J.D. applicants, so Northwestern likely omitted the question for the LLM program, assuming that an LLM applicant would have to have a clean criminal record to obtain a J.D.  

After being expelled, Celis filed a suit against the university claiming that he spent over $76,000 on his education there and that he deserved to graduate since the school never directly asked about any convictions.  The case recently settled for undisclosed terms.

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