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State Supreme Court rules retains bar exam

BY AARON WALKER | SEPTEMBER 09, 2014 5:00 AM

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The Iowa Supreme Court ruled this past weekend that law students across the state will still be required to take the bar exam in order to practice law.

The ruling would have allowed students at the two accredited law schools in the state, the University of Iowa and Drake University, to practice law directly after graduating by completing a number of approved courses in a system known as diploma privilege.

The Iowa State Bar Association proposed the changes.

Although being disappointed by the ruling, Joe Feller, the president of the association said, “[he is] pretty happy with the order, because it continues conversation about the practice of licensing in the state of Iowa.”

Although the court struck down the ruling, the State Board of Law Examiners is required to submit a report regarding issues with the bar application process by March 31, 2015.

“We want to keep working on these issues to try to make things better for our applicants and law students,” Feller said. 

Aside from diploma privilege, the association promotes changes such as a uniform bar exam, which would allow those who pass to practice law in other states that use the exam and alterations to the basic skills course that is given to new attorneys.

“I was gratified by the court’s willingness to study and invite public comment on the proposal, and I was not surprised by its ruling not to adopt the diploma privilege,” said UI law-school Dean Gail Agrawal.

She said this method of assessment makes the application process more complicated.

“Although the bar examination is a rite of passage for almost all lawyers, it is an expensive and time-consuming vehicle to assess competence to practice law,” Agrawal said.

Many students may not practice law in the state in which they originally studied and took the bar exam.

People such as Chris Malloy, the supervising attorney at Student Legal Services, needed to take the bar exam to practice in Iowa after receiving diploma privilege from The University of Wisconsin Law School.

“[Diploma privilege] was of significant financial benefit to me when otherwise I would have had to wait four to five months for the results of the July bar exam before beginning to practice law, especially when I had to begin making payments on my student loans six months after graduation,” Malloy said.

However, he said, the Iowa bar exam was a valuable experience.

“I took the exam after practicing law in Wisconsin for several years; the experience of studying for the exam forced me to become sharp in several areas of law I had not looked at since law school,” he said.

UI third-year law student Zach Fairlie said he believes the bar exam is beneficial for those who want to practice law.   

“The bar exam is good because it does provide legitimacy in the public eye which is very important in our profession, so I don’t have a problem taking the bar exam,” he said.

Other students, such as Elizabeth O’Neill remained optimistic and unfazed.

“I came into law school with the anticipation that I would have to take the bar exam no matter where I practiced,” O’Neill said. “I guess it would have been an added benefit that I could have not have to take the bar exam, but I don’t feel blindsided or anything.”


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