Legal Education

State supreme court asked to consider new licensure paths for lawyers

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The Oregon State Bar Board of Bar Examiners has adopted a task force report suggesting supervised practice or law school experiential-learning programs as bar exam alternatives for attorney licensure.

The report, released June 18, does not call for ending the bar exam. It has been submitted to the Oregon Supreme Court for consideration, the Oregonian reports.

“We produced something that I think takes a really holistic approach to licensure. The [uniform bar exam] is still there for those who want it, but for those who go to school in Oregon, there is the [Oregon experiential pathway], and there’s a supervised practice pathway for those who come from out of state,” Brian Gallini, dean of the Willamette University College of Law who is also a member of the Oregon task force, told the ABA Journal.

Oregon is planning for an in-person July bar exam using the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ uniform bar exam. The state granted temporary diploma privilege in June 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and administered a remote bar exam in February 2021, according to the NCBE website.

In a statement, the NCBE told the ABA Journal that it continues to support jurisdictions, including Oregon, with its bar exam experience and work. The statement also noted that the organization “is currently engaged in the multiyear endeavor of reimagining the bar exam to meet the changing needs of our legal community.”

The task force report determines minimum competence to practice law and cites research from the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System identifying legal processes, identifying legal issues and conducting research as core competencies to practice law.

For admission through a law school program, which the task force calls the “Oregon experiential pathway,” students would complete two years of specific learning. It would be available starting with 2024 graduates.

In addition to legal research, writing and issue spotting, the learning would include argument development, written and oral advocacy and legal analysis. The report notes that New Hampshire allows bar admission with no exam for people who complete the University of New Hampshire School of Law’s Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program.

Regarding the supervised practice recommendation, the task force suggests applicants complete between 1,000 and 1,500 hours with supervision from a licensed Oregon lawyer who has at least five years of practice experience and no record of public discipline.

It would also be available to people who graduated from ABA-accredited, out-of-state law school graduates, Gallini says.

Qualifying activities suggested for supervised practice include advising business clients on employee matters, continuing legal education courses and developing policies for nonprofit groups or government agencies. Additionally, the task force suggests further discussion on whether working for judges could be considered supervised practice.

The Oregon report follows a June New York State Bar Association task force committee recommendation, which suggests ending the jurisdiction’s use of the UBE and replacing it with its own bar exam. Both committees listed equity in the profession as reasons to change how attorneys are licensed to practice law.

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