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.' "
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."