Sunday, December 2, 2012
A luncheon for third-year law students during spring 2011 got law professor Gabriel Chin thinking. The gathering at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law should have been full of excitement and promise for those about to embark on new legal careers, he thought. The reality was a bit different.
"It really was kind of anti-climactic," Chin said. "Instead of being the beginning of a new thing, they still had to take the bar. Medical students take their boards while in school, so graduation is a major transformative moment. I thought, 'Something like that could work in the law school context.' "
Chin's epiphany led to a proposal backed by all three Arizona law schools to allow 3Ls to sit for the bar during the February before they graduate, rather than making them wait until after graduation. The Arizona Supreme Court is slated to consider the proposal on December 5. If the court approves, Arizona would be the only state that allows students to take the bar exam midway through their final school year. The idea is to move students into practice as quickly as possible. ...
Not everyone in Arizona was sold on the idea, however. The state Supreme Court's Attorney Regulation Advisory Committee in May asked the court to reject the proposal, citing concerns that students would be overwhelmed trying to complete school and pass the bar exam at the same time. The committee noted that other states, including Missouri, Oregon and Virginia, had tried and abandoned the idea because they found it "disruptive and distracting." Georgia, for example, began allowing 3Ls to take the February bar during the 1970s, but ended the practice in 1995 after concluding that students were spending more time studying for the test than attending classes.
"My fear is that it will negatively impact the third year of the educational experience and essentially turn the third year into a bar prep course," said Arizona assistant secretary of state Jim Drake, who sits on the committee. "I don't think that's the right way to go. I see this more as a marketing idea." Getting students admitted to the bar sooner can only help the law schools' rate of placing graduates in legal jobs, and thus their U.S. News & World Report rankings, he added. ...
If Arizona does begin allowing 3Ls to take the exam early — potentially as early as the February 2014 sitting — Chin expects other states to take notice. "I haven't met anybody who thinks students aren't ready to take the bar after five semesters," he said. "Given that, why do we make students incur this additional expense? I think there will be a lot of interest from other states looking to follow suit."