Monday, September 7, 2020
William Patton (USC Law & UCLA Medicine), Admitting Law Graduates By Bar Examination Versus By a Diploma Privilege: A Comparison of Consumer Protection:
State bar associations for decades have justified increasing the rigorousness of their bar examinations as a necessary measure for assuring consumer protection. However, no state has provided data based empirical evidence that increasing the difficulty of a bar examination has a direct correlation with increasing consumer protection (decreasing attorney discipline based upon incompetency and/or ethical violations). This study of the Wisconsin State Bar disciplinary system demonstrates that there is little difference in the protection of the public between admitting law students to the practice of law by a diploma privilege versus requiring passage of a bar examination.
This analysis has presented a great deal of empirical data that demonstrates that there is very little difference between the level of protection provided to the public whether an attorney is admitted pursuant to having passed a bar examination or admitted via a diploma privilege like the one implemented in Wisconsin. As this study has demonstrated, since the general bar examination tests very few issues of professional responsibility that form the bulk of the types of state bar disciplinary sanctions, it should not be surprising that those admitted pursuant to a diploma privilege do not pose a greater risk to consumers. Since there are no peer-reviewed studies regarding the correlation between state bar disciplinary proceedings and law graduates’ class rank and national ranking of law school attended, it is difficult to discuss nuances that might be added to the diploma privilege to provide the public with a more intuitive or reasoned assessment of consumer safety. Future research needs to examine whether or how the Wisconsin diploma privilege model can be expanded to other states and whether it can also be expanded to include out-of-state law graduates. However, based on the exigency of the Covid-19 pandemic several states have already adopted a temporary diploma privilege bar admission protocol.