Oregon may stop requiring lawyers to pass the state’s bar exam after new data showed dramatic racial disparities in bar exam results.
Instead of studying for the notoriously grueling two-day bar exam, those hoping to practice law in Oregon may soon be given two alternative routes to becoming licensed in the state.
A task force of the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners recommended in two recent task force reports that potential attorneys be allowed to either take the exam or be admitted to the profession on the merits of coursework and practical experience.
The idea is to provide a pathway to licensing for people who do not have the time or resources to prepare for the bar exam. Some proponents of the alternatives also say it will lead to attorneys being better prepared when they do begin practicing.
The recommendations come after more than 1,000 new lawyers became licensed over the past year without taking a bar exam, thanks to emergency pandemic programs in Utah, Washington, Oregon, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C.
The recommendations were delivered on Friday last week to the Oregon Supreme Court, which is set to consider them at a public meeting on July 7. The court — along with the Oregon State Bar — is currently accepting public comment online up to the day before the meeting.
The move came the same week the American Bar Association (ABA) released new data showing dramatic racial disparities in bar exam scores.
In 2020, 87.65% of the white candidates taking a bar exam for the first time passed. Among first-time black candidates, 66.28% passed, and among first-time Hispanic candidates, 75.59% passed, according to the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar.
Oregon has required lawyers to pass a bar exam for 111 years, since 1910.
Hans Bader, a longtime civil rights lawyer who served a stint in the federal Office for Civil Rights, said that while he can see the argument for getting rid of the bar exam, lawyers should be required to disclose to clients that they did not pass it.
“You might still be able to learn these basics later, by being an apprentice in a law firm,” Bader told The Daily Wire. “So I can see the argument that if you attended law school, and got a law degree, you should be allowed to practice law even if you couldn’t pass the bar exam.”
However, he added, “if someone like that is allowed to practice law, I think they should have to publicly disclose in advertisements or client solicitations that they didn’t pass the bar exam, so prospective clients can take that into account, and realize that they are not the cream of the crop, in terms of lawyers.”
Bader also expressed his view that Oregon’s law degree requirement should be scrapped before the bar exam, as the high cost is a more significant barrier for some people. Oregon requires a degree from a law school approved by the American Bar association before someone can sit for the Oregon bar exam.
“Much of what you learn in law school isn’t that useful to most lawyers, especially after the first year,” Bader said. “And law school, unlike the bar exam, is terribly expensive.”
During his second term, former President Obama suggested that law schools should shave off a year of classes.
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