Law students and legal educators continue pushing states to consider alternatives to trying to jam a bunch of applicants through a ramshackle Fall bar exam period and it looks like one state has heard the call.
After appeals by Utah Law dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner and BYU’s Gordon Smith, Utah is looking to adopt a model that’s come to be called “diploma privilege plus.” Under the proposed order, which is undergoing a public comment period right now, grads from ABA-accredited law schools “that posted a first-time bar passage rate on last July’s exam of 86 percent or higher” will be eligible to be admitted in Utah without taking the bar exam. Per Law.com:
To qualify for the diploma privilege, they must have graduated between May 2019 and June 2020, not have previously sat for a bar exam, and already been registered to take the July exam in Utah by April 1. They also must complete 360 hours of legal work under the supervision of an attorney licensed in the state by the end of the year to be admitted to practice.
The case for the bar exam as a licensing tool is somewhat dubious. Why, exactly, test subject matter mastery in a system that requires applicants to already have a degree from an accredited law school? Granting that there may be law schools out there that don’t deserve accreditation — a problem exacerbated by conservative legal activists challenging the ABA’s standards — this is one of those cases where you don’t fix the burnt-out bulb by buying a new chandelier. If law schools aren’t up to snuff, fix the law schools, don’t keep us chained to a redundant exam designed for an era before law schools were really a thing.
This crisis offers legal education a crossroads moment to figure out what our ideal model of education and licensure looks like. This is a temporary step, but it’s giving Utah an opportunity to see if maybe there’s a better way to structure the profession. Every jurisdiction should be so open-minded.
Utah Poised to Let Law Grads Skip the Bar Exam Amid COVID-19 Pandemic [Law.com]
Joe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.
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