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Many States are Reconsidering Requiring the Bar Exam
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many states reconsider the bar exam

Summary: In the aftermath of the law bar passage rate of 2014, many states are considering bypassing the bar exam.

By now most of us know the ongoing story of the 2008 recession and the transformative work it has had on the legal industry. Most markets recovered, but not the legal profession, leaving a host of JDs delivering pizzas in a vain effort to pay off six figure debts, while the market is glutted with lawyers. Then we have the universities and schools: there are more law schools than there has ever been in the United States, but enrollment is at a 30 year low. Especially these last few years, students have wised up that passing the bar is a lot of work, and that they might not be compensated for it.


What sort of dynamic does this have for law schools, who are trying to keep their tenured professors professing, and meanwhile the grab the sorts of students who will raise their U.S. News ranking. That means they don’t want to simply lower their standards on LSAT scores and undergrad GPA. But many have, offering various rationalizations on how this was a good move.

That lead to accusations that last year’s bar exam, which had a record number of failures, had something to do with quality control problems at the law school level. As Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, put it July 2013, indicators “all point to the fact that the group that sat in July 2014 was less able than the group that sat in July 2013.”

That euphemism, “less able,” has put law school deans in a rage, with many demanding details on how the bar exam questions were chosen.

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As Stephen Ferruolo, dean of the University of San Diego School of Law, put it, the exam is “an unpredictable and unacceptable impediment for accessibility to the legal profession.”

Maybe. And along that line, many states are considering barring the bar exam from being the one prerequisite to practicing law.

The Iowa State Bar Association, for instance, has proposed an in-state “diploma privilege” as Wisconsin has, that would allow graduates to skip the bar exam and work directly in their profession (in an ideal world).

Though the Iowa Supreme Court rejected this idea last year, they asked for recommendations on how to make the bar exam more efficient and economical.

Other changes have been made, with Arizona allowing students to take the bar exam their final year of law school so they will not need to spend time and money on refreshing themselves on information necessary to pass the bar exam.

New Hampshire has an alternative licensing model that lets students take a review, which, if they pass, lets them bypass the bar and go directly into practice.

Whether this “rethinking of the bar exam” is happening because the student body has been dumbed down to keep enrollment up, or, as the law deans suggest, just because coincidentally its time to start questioning the exam, is a matter of dispute. That the bar exam is being undermined in preference to tidier and easier ways to join the market won’t go far in solving the unemployed lawyer predicament, nevertheless.


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