It is often said that lawyers hold the keys to the courthouse. That is one reason the states regulate lawyers and administer bar exams to determine who gets to be a lawyer. Lawyers are officers of the court and owe a duty to uphold the rule of law, as well as a duty to zealously represent their clients. But laws and judicial procedures differ from state to state. Until now, each state has administered its own bar exam. But according to an article in the National Law Journal, 10 states are considering adopting a uniform bar exam (UBE) within the next year or two. The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) will be hosting a conference in Phoenix next month for states considering adopting the Uniform Bar Exam that the NCBE has produced. It will be interesting to see how the states decide to use such an exam. Will the passing score be the same for all of the states adopting the UBE? Will passing the bar in one state using the UBE mean that the lawyer will be admitted in all of the other states using the same test?
After I graduated from law school, I took and passed the bar exam in three states. Each state’s exam was as different as the laws and people of each of the three states. I don’t think that taking or passing the bar exam made me a better a lawyer, nor do I think it means that I am a better lawyer than anyone else. But it did serve to highlight some of the unique laws, procedures or legal terminology that some states have. I’m not sure how states will be able to assure that new lawyers, especially those residing in other states or those that attended law schools in other states, are aware of the state’s peculiarities. Will states continue to be able to require a party to retain local counsel where the party and its lead attorney reside out of state, even if the attorney is admitted to practice in that state (by passing the UBE or otherwise)?
It is also interesting to note that NCBE is located in Madison, Wisconsin, where the state Supreme Court is currently considering whether to retain, expand or abolish the “diploma privilege” for those who graduate from one of the state’s only two law schools (University of Wisconsin and Marquette University). Perhaps the larger and more important question is whether bar exams are still a relevant and effective means of regulating lawyers. How should we decide who gets to hold the keys to the courthouse?
The first state to adopt the Uniform Bar Exam is Missouri. Will others follow? Stay tuned.