Vol. 76, No. 3, March
Letters to the editor: The Wisconsin Lawyer
publishes as many letters in each issue as space permits. Please limit
letters to 500 words; letters may be edited for length and clarity.
Letters should address the issues, and not be a personal attack on
others. Letters endorsing political candidates cannot be accepted.
Please mail letters to "Letters to the Editor," Wisconsin Lawyer, P.O.
Box 7158, Madison, WI 53707-7158, fax them to (608) 257-4343, or email
them to org wislawyer wisbar wisbar wislawyer org.
Is It Time to End the Bar Exam?
Readers respond to December's pro/con editorial on whether it is time
to end the bar exam and extend the diploma privilege to graduates of all
ABA-approved law schools.
Not All Wisconsin Grads Would Pass Bar Exam
The editorial in the December 2002 Wisconsin Lawyer, "Is It
Time to End the Bar Exam?," did not discuss a third option: the
elimination of the diploma privilege and the requirement that
all law school graduates take the bar exam.
I believe it is time to reconsider the diploma privilege in
Wisconsin, the only state with the diploma privilege.
The public has a right to expect minimum levels of competence from
attorneys. Although a bar exam is not the only measure, it does impose
objective criteria by which lawyer applicants are measured in terms of
basic levels of competence. The diploma privilege instead uses the
collective, often partially subjective, opinion of a law school faculty
that a graduate is competent to practice law.
I am an AV-rated attorney who graduated from Golden Gate University
School of Law in San Francisco in December 1979. I was admitted to
practice in Wisconsin and California in 1980 after successfully passing
both bar exams on the first attempt.
The California pass rate for July 2001 first-time bar exam takers who
graduated from ABA-accredited law schools in California was 78.6 percent
compared to 70.3 percent from ABA-accredited law schools outside of
California. In July 2002, the ratio was 68.5 percent compared to 66.5
The Wisconsin pass rate for bar exam takers who graduated from
ABA-accredited law schools outside of Wisconsin was 83 percent in July
2002, 67 percent in February 2002, 77 percent in July 2001, and 72
percent in February 2001.
Although I can only speculate as to what the Wisconsin bar exam pass
rate would be for graduates of Wisconsin law schools, it clearly would
not be 100 percent and would likely be in the neighborhood of 85 to 90
percent. This, of course, means that anywhere from 10 to 15 percent of
the graduates of Wisconsin law schools would be unable to pass the
Wisconsin bar exam, a bar exam not known for its difficulty.
A bar exam and the review used as a condition precedent ensure that
law students have at least minimum levels of competence. For example,
civil procedure is normally taken in the first year of law school. It is
not unreasonable to assume that after two additional years of study,
students may have forgotten some of the basic rules of civil procedure.
I believe that the public in Wisconsin would be better served if the bar
exam were required of all applicants in Wisconsin.
Incidentally, eliminating the diploma privilege would likely have the
added effect of actually improving law schools in Wisconsin as they
compete with out-of-state law schools for the most qualified
Thomas R. Jones, Waukesha
Exam Doesn't Consider Timeliness and Specialization
I think neither article spoke to the biggest inequities faced by
licensed lawyers moving into the state compared to diploma privilege
attorneys: timeliness and specialization.
Lawyers moving to Wisconsin can be subjected to a full-scale testing
of every subject in law many years after completing course work on a
subject, including subjects those lawyers have never practiced and have
no intention of ever practicing. The scoring of the Wisconsin bar exam
is weighted to specifically preclude passage by receiving high scores in
areas of expertise. Lawyers who are not recent grads are often employed
and have moved beyond "starving student" financial commitments. Most
cannot take a month off and spend thousands to pay BAR/BRI to distill
the highlights of Wisconsin law. (And, although it may be effective for
a bar exam, I question whether a BAR/BRI cram course really provides the
depth of legal knowledge necessary to be competent in practice.)
The Wisconsin diploma privilege is based on taking a certain series
of courses, maybe geared to Wisconsin law, and achieving certain grades.
Exams are given at the end of a semester of devoted study (many times to
students who have nothing diverting their attention from the
wholehearted study of the law). Those grades are what are considered for
the diploma privilege.
Following completion of a course, a particular subject matter may
never be reviewed again in the professional careers of many attorneys
who go on to practice in another field. Perhaps if Wisconsin wanted to
verify that the diploma privilege really recognizes the production of
such highly knowledgeable generalists, it should administer the full bar
exam to fully employed attorneys who have been out of law school two to
four years. Perhaps those kinds of results would be helpful to the
Mary Sajna, Portland, Ore.
Provincial Air of Superiority Colors Debate
Regarding the diploma privilege: I recently attended a talk by the
chancellor of U.W.-Platteville that included an astonishing statistic -
Wisconsin ranks 50th among the states in attracting graduates from
out-of-state colleges. While not directly related to the legal
profession, that statistic helps to explain the provincial air of
superiority that colors so much of our public policy debate.
If Wisconsin wants to excuse U.W. and Marquette law school graduates
from sitting for a bar examination, fine. But please spare those of us
who toiled our way through second-class law schools like Chicago,
Harvard, Stanford, Michigan, Illinois, Northwestern, Georgetown, and so
on, the lectures about how only Wisconsin law schools get legal
education "right." Take a look at Supreme Court Rule 40.03(2). Do you
think these subjects are unknown to law schools in the hinterlands, or
that Harvard Law School would be unable to certify to the Wisconsin
Supreme Court that its graduates have studied them for 60 semester
Is Wisconsin law so "unique" that its mastery demands bar testing for
out-of-state grads? Why then is the Wisconsin ABA delegation lobbying
against the ABA's proposed controls on out-of-state admissions? The ABA
proposal, as I understand it, would require that Wisconsin lawyers prove
they have passed a bar exam to qualify for pro hac vice admission in the
other 49 states. I believe it is foolhardy to assume that the law of no
other state is more "unique" than Wisconsin's. But if that's your
assumption, then the assumption itself should serve to disqualify
untested Wisconsin lawyers from practicing in all those other states
where the law is so different.
Wisconsin is a truly wonderful place to live and work. But its
virtues are diminished by the perpetual claims that legislatures,
governors, courts, and law schools elsewhere are engaged in nothing more
than producing feeble imitations of the wheels invented here.
George Vernon, Monroe