Washington State Follows Oregon and Wisconsin by Approving Alternatives to Bar Exam

“The Washington Supreme Court has adopted alternative pathways to a law license, becoming the second state to do so in a little more than four months,” according to this ABA Journal article.  The Court

approved three ways to bypass a bar exam in Washington state, with different standards for law school graduates, law students and law clerks participating in a lawyer-tutoring program already in existence.  All involve apprenticeships or internships.

The changes are based on recommendations by a task force that made two important findings, according to the press release.  The task force found that the traditional bar exam “disproportionately and unnecessarily” blocks marginalized groups from law practice, and that the exam is “at best minimally effective for ensuring competent lawyers,” the press release says.

The three pathways in Washington are:

      • For law graduates, a six-month apprenticeship under the guidance of a qualified attorney, during which aspiring lawyers must complete three courses of standardized coursework.
      • For law students, 500 hours of work as a licensed legal intern and completion of 12 qualifying skills credits. A portfolio of work will also have to be completed.
      • For law clerks bypassing law school, 500 hours of work as a licensed legal intern and completion of additional standardized educational materials and benchmarks under the guidance of their tutors.

3 thoughts on “Washington State Follows Oregon and Wisconsin by Approving Alternatives to Bar Exam”

  1. The developments in licensing are exciting, especially if they also stimulate changes in legal education. I am just one of many dedicated people working on these projects. To track these developments, you can always refer to https://lawyerlicensingresources.org/jurisdictions. I hope to have more news soon about initiatives in other states. Thanks for all you do, John, to feature these efforts.

    1. Thanks, Debby. Please do keep us posted. Indeed, I would be happy to post guest posts if you like.

      I agree that one of the most important — perhaps the most important — effects of changes in licensing could be that law schools improve their curricula. That’s the focus of my short piece, Taking Advantage of the NextGen Bar to Stimulate Changes in Legal Education.

      Changes in licensing will not necessarily lead to significant improvements in legal education. Law schools and faculty need to take the initiative to implement changes in their own schools. My piece suggests a framework for theories of change to accomplish these goals.

      And read Debby’s new article, Enhancing the Validity and Fairness of Lawyer Licensing: Empirical Evidence Supporting Innovative Pathways.

  2. An update, courtesy of Ohio State Prof. Deborah Jones Merritt, who has been promoting innovation in legal education and, especially recently, alternative methods of licensing.

    Here’s the Minnesota Supreme Court order setting up its process for planning licensing methods in the future. Although Oregon and Wisconsin have approved licensing methods other than the bar, Minnesota isn’t planning to strictly following either model. Indeed, the order rejects Wisconsin’s diploma privilege approach.

    In addition to Wisconsin, Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota, we may see other states experiment with alternatives to the bar exam. Some states may authorize multiple ways for people to choose from to get licensed.

    Stay tuned.

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