There are a lot of reasons to be thinking about the how, what, and why of state bar exams, but scrapping it because law students are compiling too much debt? That's what a report to the Illinois State Bar Association suggests considering, joining Arizona and New York in alternatively urging consideration of offering the bar exam during the third year of law school:
[S]upreme courts could allow qualified students to take the bar exam in February of their third year, thus avoiding the cost of studying for the bar exam after graduation, and reducing the delay before beginning work. Such a proposal should be careful not to restrict the time law students have in their third year to become practice ready. Alternatively, supreme courts should consider offering bar admission to qualified graduates of their state’s law schools without a bar exam.
Wisconsin and New Hampshire are now the only states offering admission to the graduates of selected law schools within their state without exam ("diploma privilege").
The wide-ranging report spells out the probable impact of law school debt on access to justice, including:
- Small Law Firms Face Challenges Hiring and Retaining Competent Attorneys
- Fewer Lawyers are Able to Work in Public Interest Positions
- As Fewer Attorneys Find Sustainable Jobs in the Private Sector, More Attorneys Enter Solo Practice
- Attorneys Report that Debt Burdened Lawyers are Less Likely to Engage in Pro Bono Work
- Debt Drives Young Attorneys Away from Rural Areas
- Heavy Debt Burdens Decrease the Diversity of the Legal Profession
- Threats to Professionalism
The report was accepted by the Illinois State Bar Board of Governors last week, with the Board voting to recommend its adoption by the state bar's Assembly in June.