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Oregon Weighs Bar Exam Alternatives

Oregon is the first state to consider permanent alternatives to the bar exam for law grads.

The Oregon Supreme Court met on Wednesday to hear proposals on bar exam alternatives that would allow law grads to become licensed without taking the bar. Ultimately, the court did not make a final decision on the proposals and requested more time for public opinion and asked that the task force continue to fine-tune the proposed alternatives, Law.com reports.

 

TWO PROPOSED ALTERNATIVES

The two proposed alternatives focus on coursework and practical law experience as a basis for law licensure.

The first proposal includes a curriculum-based model that emphasizes experiential coursework for 2L and 3L law students culminating in a capstone portfolio that is submitted to the Oregon State Bar Board of Examiners for approval.

The second proposal would require that law grads work under the supervision of a licensed attorney for up to 1,500 hours before submitting a portfolio of work to the board.

“The Task Force believes that there is substantial evidence to support offering alternative pathways to licensure that maintain and enhance rigor, while ensuring that new lawyers enter the profession with the knowledge and skills that they need to serve clients,” the task force states.

DIPLOMA PRIVILEGE

As a number of states made the bar exam remote during the COVID-19 pandemic, conversation around the necessity of the bar exam for law licensure grew in popularity. Critics of the bar exam argue that the exam is inherently biased towards wealthy, white test takers and creates social and economic barriers to legal practice.

“The bar has a sordid history as one of the many racialized gatekeeping mechanisms into the practice of law,” Pilar Margarita Hernández Escontrías, co-founder of United for Diploma Privilege and a graduate of the University of California, Irvine School of Law, writes for Slate. “The legal profession was a virtually unregulated, open field of practice for generations until immigrants and Black and Jewish people started applying for bar admission in the late 19th century. The modern bar exam emerged around this time, and a number of states began requiring graduation from ABA-accredited law schools in order to become licensed to practice law. These new gatekeepers relied on racially discriminatory requirements.

Last year, following concerns around in-person testing during the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of states and jurisdictions—including Oregon, Louisiana, Utah, Washington, and Washington, D.C.—adopted temporary diploma privilege, allowing law school grads to become licensed without taking the bar exam. The temporary privileges were designed to be phased out in 2021.

Sources: Law.com, Law.com, Oregon State Board of Bar Examiners, Bloomberg Law, Slate

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