Oregon Closer to Becoming Third State to Allow Would-Be Lawyers to Skip Bar Exam

Instead of potential lawyers taking the bar exam in Oregon, a proposal approved by the Oregon Supreme Court offers an alternative to becoming licensed—with experience or supervision.

During a Tuesday business meeting, the Oregon Supreme Court made a unanimous vote that "expressed approval in concept" to a pair of proposals suggesting alternative ways for law students and postgraduates looking for admittance to the state bar, draft minutes from the meeting show, according to The Associated Press.

Brian Gallini, dean of the Willamette University College of Law, outlined a proposed test alternative. It's called the Oregon Experiential Pathway. That option would permit Oregon law school students to become licensed attorneys after finishing a standard curriculum, but also adds a wrinkle, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported. A capstone project is likely to be included on top of fulfilling curriculum requirements.

The "Supervised Practice Pathway" is another option. It's designed for out-of-state applicants. Requirements for that test substitute include would-be lawyers spending 1,000 to 1,500 hours with a licensed Oregon attorney, according to The Oregonian/OregonLive.

"People are comfortable with the two-day exam. Surely they can be comfortable with a two-year exam," said Gallini, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

"I anticipate these two pathways will be more rigorous than the current bar exam," said Gallini, who also backed the project since the pandemic caused Oregon to permit 2020 graduates from the state's three law schools to skip the bar exam, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

Oregon Supreme Court, Bar Exam Alternatives, Proposals
The Oregon Supreme Court disbanded a previous task force and ordered the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners to have new committees meet to develop the bar replacement proposals more, according to The Oregonian/OregonLive. In this photo, Fulton County District Attorney Paul L. Howard Jr. point at a picture displayed inside the courtroom as he announces 11 charges against former Atlanta Police Officer Garrett Rolfe on June 17, 2020, in Atlanta, Georgia. Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

The court disbanded a previous task force and ordered the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners to have new committees meet to develop the proposals more, according to The Oregonian/OregonLive.

The committees will work on the proposals and report back to the Oregon Supreme Court in six months at the earliest, KIVI-TV reported.

Only two states, Wisconsin and New Hampshire, allow law school graduates to receive a license without the bar exam, Reuters reported. Wisconsin has a "diploma privilege" tract that permits graduates from the state's two law schools to be licensed. New Hampshire permits a small group of law students that complete a specialized curriculum to skip the bar exam.

Oregon had allowed a type of diploma privilege during the pandemic for those who graduated in 2020 from not only the state's three law schools, but any law schools accredited by the American Bar Association that bar exam's passage rate was 86 percent or higher for those taking the exam for the first time in 2019, according to an order form the state's highest court in 2020. The state has since returned to the bar exam requirement.

"We're not lowering the bar to become a lawyer," Joanna Perini-Abbott said, outgoing chair of the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners, AP reported. "We feel there are other ways that someone can demonstrate that they are competent to practice law."

Kateri Walsh, director of communications for the Oregon State Bar, said in an email to Newsweek that the bar has no position on the proposals as of yet but supports "the Oregon Supreme Court's commitment to both public protection and equity in considering both alternatives."

"Our next step will be in helping the court gather input from stakeholders and the public, and then we expect to weigh in more substantively at a later date," Walsh said. "To be successful, the bar, the court — and ultimately the public — will need to know that the pathway to become a lawyer in Oregon is open and equitable, while also maintaining rigorous standards of education, ethics, and competency."

(Update 01/13 6:23 PM: The was updated to reflect Oregon State Bar Director of Communication Kateri Walsh's comments regarding the proposals.)