After learning a student was previously convicted for unauthorized practice of law in Texas, Northwestern University’s law school expelled the student.
“Practicing” Law in Mexico and Texas
The former law student, Mauricio Celis, claimed to have practiced in Mexico several years ago. He then founded a Texas-based personal injury law firm. The State of Texas found that he practiced law without a license from Texas, or even from Mexico. The state convicted him and sentenced him to ten years of probation. However, Celis maintained his innocence throughout the Texas trial and still does.
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 seedy nature of the regional legal environment. “Case runners” often find promising cases in return for a portion of the monetary winnings.
Some of the runners are lawyers themselves who keep an eye out for potential new clients and feed them to large firms. Celis acted as one of these “case runner” investigators and excelled at it. He brought in great profits for himself. While he initially portrayed himself as just an investigator, he eventually started saying he held a law license. A lot of people believed this.
Unfortunately for the attorneys he worked with, they were subject to discipline because he did not have a license.
Celis was such a good impostor that no one noticed for about five years. Another lawyer in the area grew suspicious and looked into Celis’ background. Celis not only ever attended law school, he never even finished college. Once that attorney brought this information forward, the state bar and prosecutors got involved. They found that he 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 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 was convicted of a felony, so he did not disclose that information. Northwestern, and most other law schools, ask that question for J.D. applicants. Northwestern likely omitted the question for the LLM program, assuming that an LLM applicant would 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. Additionally, he claimed that he deserved to graduate since the school never directly asked about any convictions. The case recently settled for undisclosed terms.