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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Should Law Students be Allowed to Take the Bar in February of Their Third Year?

National Law Journal:  A Possible Head Start for Law Students:  Arizona's Schools Propose to Let Them Sit for the Bar Exam Before They Actually Graduate:

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."

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Comments

This is a bad idea, for the reasons cited by the Supreme Court's Attorney Regulation Advisory Committee.

The third year is when students are finally done with their required, introductory level classes and can finally take the specialized, technically challenging classes that will actually make them useful to employers.

As is, law students still have a huge amount to learn on the job, and employers are frustrated. This proposal would only make things worse. This should be obvious to anyone who has ever worked for a law firm, bank, large corporation, or federal government agency.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 2, 2012 12:11:59 PM

What's the rush? And the impact of trying to prepare for the bar while enrolled in law school courses would be quite adverse. Even the MPRE gets in the way of effective study and often has a detrimental impact on the student's law school education.

Enjoy the journey. You'll get there in due course.

Posted by: Jim Maule | Dec 2, 2012 12:22:05 PM

The author incorrectly states that Arizona is the only state to allow 3Ls to take the bar exam in February of the 3L year.

Indiana allows it if the bar applicant has 4 or fewer credits that final semester, which a student can amass by taking ~4-5 credits (via either externships and/or courses) each summer.

See Ind. Adm. & Disc. R 13, Section 5 ("An applicant, who has fewer than five (5) hours to complete and is within one hundred (100) days of graduation from an approved law school, satisfactorily has passed work in the subject matter as set forth in the provisions of this section, and otherwise has completed all requirements for admission to the bar, shall be entitled to take the examination for admission to the bar, but may not be admitted to the bar of the Court until said applicant has met all other requirements for admission and has graduated from an approved law school.").

Posted by: Zac | Dec 3, 2012 6:20:48 AM

on the other hand... you could build the curriculium around this: short course Dec - Feb to prep - then have March - May focused on the practical training students need to get proficient without the distraction of preparing for a July bar.

Posted by: Anon2 | Dec 3, 2012 7:03:12 AM

Where has everyone been on this issue? Texas has allowed 3L's to take the bar in February for many years (took mine in Feb. 1999). Texas isn't exactly the tiniest, most insignificant state in the union. This is a big deal now that Arizona is considering the same rule???

Posted by: Richard Fagin | Dec 4, 2012 11:45:31 AM

I took the February bar exam in Virginia, back in 1982. I understand that Virginia later did away with that option, but I have no idea why.

It had no detrimental effect on my studies, but I was taking only 12 hours that semester. BAR/BRI courses started over Christmas break and never interfered with classes. And whatever classes one takes the final semester of law school are completely optional, in that they are in areas of interest instead of meeting mandatory requirements.

But talk about Spring Fever! Knowing that I had passed the bar but having to study for the last exams of my law school career in subjects that had no bearing on my future (already had a job offer) during one of the prettiest months in Charlottesville, Virginia was one of the hardest things I had to do in life.

Posted by: Rex | Dec 4, 2012 11:57:41 AM

I was among those that took the Georgia Bar in February of 1995. It was a huge advantage in the job market (not that it was all that great then), because we were certified and ready to practice law right around graduation day. I started my first job as an assistant district attorney not a month after graduation.

It is true that bar review made attention to classwork more difficult, but, for the most part, it was the professors who disliked the February bar, not the students. We all graduated, despite missing some class around bar exam time. I disagree that it is too much for the students -- it is part of the juggling process any practicing attorney has to go through. Long, tedious hours of preparation on many subjects is the bread and butter of the typical attorney.

Posted by: WT | Dec 4, 2012 12:02:12 PM

Let me correct one point. Unlike the bar exam, which is one test, the United States Medical licensing exam consists of three separate tests ("steps").

In the vast majority of states, US Medical school graduates are not permitted to take Step 3, the final exam necessary for license eligibility, until AFTER they've graduated with their MD. In most States, med school graduates aren't eligible to sit for Step 3 until they've completed at least half a year of postgraduate medical training (residency), and in practice many physicians don't take this exam until their second, or even subsequent year of residency training.

Back on bar exam participation, just because you "can" take it before law school graduation, doesn't mean you "have to".

I guess law students (who are, by definition adult college graduates) aren't capable of deciding what's in their own best interest.

Posted by: looking closely | Dec 4, 2012 12:54:34 PM

Why not let students graduate with 2 1/2 years of class credits and then take the Bar? Better yet, let them graduate with 2 years of credits. Any one who wants a third year of law school can enroll in an LL.M. and then actually specialize in an area of law. This will reduce the cost of a J.D., increase the supply of lawyers and decrease the number of law professors. All good, in my view.

Posted by: Kneave Riggall | Dec 4, 2012 1:13:51 PM

Anyone should be able to take the bar exam at any time, even if they've never attended law school. I don't find the attorneys I've dealt with to be much better than a paralegal.

Posted by: Bob | Dec 4, 2012 1:16:54 PM

At least when I was in school, Indiana did allow law students to take the bar early. In my case, I was a night student. I took the bar in the summer prior to my final semester, then finished my final semester and graduated in December and sworn in in January. Most of the students in my night class did the same. Everything on the bar was covered by our previous class work, so not completing the course work did not affect our bar performance. I was able to graduate in after the fall semester of my fourth year by taking classes during the summer. I don't see that allowing a student in that situation to take the bar before graduating creates any problems or disadvantages a student. I think the difference between my situation and most full-time students is that I wasn't taking any classes during the bar prep course and bar, since I did both during the summer. The obvious benefit for us is that we could continue to work full time while pursuing the degree and the bar, and could start practice as soon as we graduated, rather than 6 or so months later.

Posted by: Michael Beason | Dec 4, 2012 1:27:04 PM

I took the bar in 1981 during my winter quarter (leaving the spring quarter free to study). Thus when I graduated I was sworn in within the week and could begin my job as an attorney. It also meant that I could concentrate 100% on my new job, instead of having to study for the bar.

Then in 1995 Georgia decided that taking the bar early was too distracting. So are the attorney's who graduated after 1995 better attorney's? Were there any complaints from the law firms (i.e. our employers) that their new attorneys were less prepared or less capable? Were there more complaints to the bar about the service provided by the new attorneys prior to 1995 than afterward?

For a profession that prides itself on the use of evidence, I do not see any evidence to support the notion that it is better to wait until after graduation to take the bar. Certainly for the new graduate, it means a delay in compensation for having passed the bar or a delay in going out on one's own if one plans on a solo practice. Thus the financial loss is clear, while there is no clear evidence on the intangibles (other than the law professors and deans don't like it).

Posted by: Larry | Dec 4, 2012 1:27:44 PM

Vermont allows people to practice law so long as they have passed the bar and apprenticed with a licensed attorney--no law school required. One of the VT state supreme court justices did just that.

Posted by: DD | Dec 4, 2012 1:38:11 PM

It's a bad idea asking them to study for the bar and do class work. However, more students should do what I did. Graduate in 2 1/2 years, take the bar in February, and go to graduation to be introduced as Esquire. Plus, saving money on tuition is a nice side benefit.

Posted by: Vinny B. | Dec 4, 2012 7:02:05 PM

It is not just about the law schools' stats. Many students will not actually get salaried jobs, because there are too many of them and not enough fully employed positions. Many will be required to hang a shingle. Others will be forced by the market to accept "positions" with small firms or solos where they are paid a percentage of the fee collected by the originating attorney (effectively "co-counseling" with the other lawyer). In these situations, the student cannot get paid (or even engage in any activities) until they are fully licensed, which in many states will not be until November, or even December since some states require a formal ceremony following positive bar passage. Forcing students to wait until July to take the bar effectively shuts them out practice until this time, leaving them waiting tables or working as law clerks for $10-$20 per hour. Seems to me like one last indignity foisted upon these people by an archaic system. Or maybe these gatekeeping functions (which also have the effect of keeping these folks poor and desperate) are feature rather than a bug...... just sayin'

Posted by: LawCynic | Dec 5, 2012 2:35:21 AM

I took the bar in 1981 during my winter quarter (leaving the spring quarter free to study). Thus when I graduated I was sworn in within the week and could begin my job as an attorney. It also meant that I could concentrate 100% on my new job, instead of having to study for the bar.

Then in 1995 Georgia decided that taking the bar early was too distracting. So are the attorney's who graduated after 1995 better attorney's? Were there any complaints from the law firms (i.e. our employers) that their new attorneys were less prepared or less capable? Were there more complaints to the bar about the service provided by the new attorneys prior to 1995 than afterward?

Posted by: Juna | Dec 22, 2012 11:46:03 AM