Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Bar Exam Does Little To Ensure Attorney Competence, Say Lawyers In Diploma Privilege State

ABA Journal, Bar Exam Does Little to Ensure Attorney Competence, Say Lawyers in Diploma Privilege State:

CoronavirusIn his 60 years of law practice, Milwaukee attorney Franklyn M. Gimbel has known good and bad attorneys. And, according to him, whether they passed a bar exam, which in Wisconsin is not required for most in-state law school graduates, has no bearing on their lawyering abilities or character.

“I know a lot of lawyers who have misbehaved—I’ve represented some of them,” says the former State Bar of Wisconsin president. “While the bar exams have become more difficult and longer, I’m not sure if you look at a lawyer a couple of decades down the road that the bar exam really was a filter.”

Wisconsin is the only state in the nation with what is known as diploma privilege, whereby in-state law school graduates can become lawyers without sitting for the bar, but many law school students—and some deans—are now urging other states to adopt the licensing procedure in the event that the July bar exam can not be administered due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Frankly, law schools do little to ensure attorney competence. The bar exam is a useful measure of general law knowledge and applied analysis under pressure. Both are useful skills that every lawyer (from a divorce attorney to a corporate restructuring advisor) must have. Is it perfect? Of course not, but the profession needs some screening criteria to ensure a threshold of competence.

The best way to ensure competence is to cut back law school to 1 year and to require a trainee period similar to that utilized in some Commonwealth countries. The legal world likely would never accept the restrictions and cronyism that would almost certainly follow such a system. One thing is clear, however, and that's that no one is competent to handle another person's legal affairs upon graduation from law schools. Until you have a minimum of 3 or 4 years' practice under your belt, you don't know what you are doing.

Posted by: lawyer and prof | May 6, 2020 12:05:11 PM

And one could say with equal validity that "diploma privilege does little to ensure attorney competence".

Posted by: Jason Yackee | May 6, 2020 11:22:36 AM