Washington state eliminates bar exam as requirement to become attorney, following Supreme Court ruling

The Washington state Supreme Court has made a significant decision, ruling in a pair of orders on Friday that the bar exam will no longer be a mandatory requirement to become a lawyer.

In 2020, a task force was appointed by the court to examine the issue and explore alternative ways for individuals to demonstrate competency and obtain a law license. As a result, the court has approved various methods to achieve this goal.

The Bar Licensure Task Force has discovered that the traditional exam is not only ineffective but also creates unnecessary barriers for marginalized groups who aspire to become practicing attorneys. In a news release from the Washington Administrative Office of the Courts, it was stated that the exam has a disproportionate impact and does little to ensure competency.

Washington becomes the second state to eliminate the bar exam requirement, following in the footsteps of Oregon, which made this change earlier this year. Several other states, including Minnesota, Nevada, South Dakota, and Utah, are also exploring alternative pathways to obtaining a license.

According to a statement from Washington Supreme Court Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis, the recommendations were developed by a task force consisting of lawyers from various backgrounds, including private practice, public practice, academia, and research. The task force received valuable input, counterpoints, and research from these individuals, which led to the creation of the recommendations. Justice Montoya-Lewis emphasized the importance of these alternative pathways in addressing the urgent need for competent and licensed new attorneys throughout the state.

Three alternative pathways for experiential learning will be available for individuals pursuing different paths of legal study. The details, scope, and execution strategy for these pathways are yet to be determined.

Read More:  Forecasters Warn of Northeast Threatened by Thunderstorms, Hail, and 65 MPH Winds as Temperatures Soar Mid-Week

Law school graduates have the opportunity to undergo a six-month apprenticeship, during which they will be closely supervised and mentored by an experienced attorney. In addition to this practical training, they will also need to successfully complete three courses.

Law students have the opportunity to develop practical skills by fulfilling 12 qualifying skills credits and engaging in 500 hours of work as a licensed legal intern. Once these requirements are met, they can submit a portfolio showcasing their work to exempt themselves from the bar exam.

According to the task force’s report, students usually undertake an internship during their second and third years of law school, accumulating approximately 400 hours of experience. Additionally, if they dedicate around three hours per week to legal work throughout their final year, they could amass 500 hours of experience by the time they graduate. This leaves them with the portfolio to complete before becoming licensed.

Law clerks have the opportunity to become lawyers even without attending law school. They can achieve this by successfully completing standardized educational materials and meeting specific benchmarks under the supervision of a mentoring attorney. Additionally, they need to accumulate 500 hours of work experience as a licensed legal intern.

Previously, individuals had the option to learn law from practicing attorneys and subsequently gain licensure by passing the bar exam. However, this novel approach offers a standardized curriculum and eliminates the need for examination.

Gonzaga School of Law Dean Jacob Rooksby expressed his support for alternative pathways, although he emphasized the importance of implementing them on a smaller scale initially.

Read More:  Body cam video captures GloRilla's DUI arrest as they undergo multiple sobriety tests

“I’m fully in favor of it in theory,” Rooksby expressed. “However, the crucial aspects lie within the specifics.”

According to Rooksby, law schools are expected to be involved in the pathway for law students. However, it remains uncertain how this will specifically impact Gonzaga at this stage.

He suggested proceeding cautiously in this direction, treating it as a case study or trial to assess how various schools could implement it on a smaller scale.

According to Rooksby, it is suggested that initially, only a maximum of 5% of students should be allowed to pursue the experiential pathway. This limitation is proposed in order to assess the level of interest from both students and employers. Rooksby also raises concerns that this pathway may attract individuals with family connections in the legal field, which could potentially hinder efforts to diversify the profession.

He is optimistic about the implementation of “guardrails” to ensure that both the objective of enhancing diversity and addressing legal needs in marginalized communities are successfully achieved.

According to Rooksby, Gonzaga may not be able to implement an alternative pathway process until 2025 at the earliest.

The Supreme Court has emphasized the importance of conducting investigations and implementing assessments and programs to ensure that lawyers maintain their competence throughout their careers, rather than just during the process of obtaining their initial license.

In addition to adopting the new NextGen bar exam by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, Washington will be introducing further changes that prioritize practical and real-world skills. These changes are set to take effect in the summer of 2026.

Read More:  largest study to determine why Black women are more likely to die from most forms of cancer

The court has also made a decision to lower the minimum passing score for the bar exam from 270 to 266. This reduction was initially implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Rooskby, Gonzaga University has implemented the new exam for its first-year students. The university has also started revising its curriculum to align with the exam. Rooskby expressed his satisfaction with the new exam, highlighting its emphasis on practical skills rather than mere memorization, which is typically associated with traditional standardized tests.

According to him, implementing the NextGen bar exam and reducing the passing score are positive measures aimed at improving the access to justice rate in Washington state and other states.

The implementation of the changes will be carried out by the Washington State Bar Association, although a timeline for this has not been set yet. When asked for comment, the bar association did not respond immediately.

The character and fitness process for lawyer licensure was examined by a task force consisting of representatives from over 30 groups and areas of practice. The task force’s recommendations in this area are set to be discussed and potentially acted upon by the state Supreme Court next month.

Leave a Comment