Hat tip to The Pitt News, the daily student newspaper of the University of Pittsburgh, which published an article this week titled “Critics of bar exam emerge across the nation.” While the title of the article might sound generalized, because the bar exam has been criticized for as long as it has been there – the substance of the article is pretty revolutionary, and it seems that not only is Iowa is set to abolish the bar exam, but that other states, which have few law colleges, may also follow suit.
The reasons are pretty clear. Even after law school and the burden of incurring a harrowing student debt, law students have to spend thousands of dollars on preparatory courses for bar exams while keeping on wondering whether they’ll ever be able to get a job.
And as the Pitt News cited Guy Cook, president of the Iowa State Bar Association, saying, “It’s nothing more than a final hazing that tests students on esoteric material they will probably never use.” Speaking on the Iowa bar exam, he said, “It doesn’t test students on Iowa law, and leaves students who have already spent three years in law school in limbo.”
As the president of the bar association in Iowa, Cook created a nonpartisan blue-ribbon commission to look at possible improvements for educating law students, and after six months, the commission’s unanimous decision was to do away with the bar exam and let Iowa move to a “diploma privilege” system.
Currently, only Wisconsin has a diploma privilege system which allows student graduates from any one of the two law schools in the state, Marquette University or the University of Wisconsin to be admitted to the state bar without an exam.
In Iowa, too, there are only two law schools, and the pass rate at bar exams is above 90 percent. So, as Cook says, it’s not a question of weeding out a great many law graduates who lack the desired competence. And where the moral fitness required for law practice is required, that’s another process and does not depend upon the bar exam being there or not.