Vol. 80, No. 5, May 2007
Those of you who are history buffs may recall the "rising sun" story from the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. James Madison related the story that as the delegates lined up to sign the final draft of the Constitution, Benjamin Franklin was pondering a picture of the sun painted on the back of George Washington's chair. Franklin reportedly said that he had often thought of that sun during the highs and lows of the convention, not being able to tell whether it was a rising sun or a setting sun. But, now that all the proposals, arguments, and compromises had been made, he believed the sun was a rising sun. I have the same feeling and hope with respect to the Board of Bar Examiners (BBE).
When I ran for president-elect in 2005, one of the issues I raised was the need for a change in what I saw as an unnecessarily rigid and sometimes uncompromising attitude of the BBE and its staff with respect to both continuing legal education (CLE) and bar admissions. Lawyers would contact me with stories that left me scratching my head and wondering: the lawyer who returned from military service in Iraq and was assessed a $50 penalty for not timely complying with CLE requirements; the out-of-state lawyer who arrived for the bar exam, only to be told that he would not be allowed to take the exam because of a missing transcript (his request to have the transcript faxed immediately after he completed the exam was denied, requiring a seven-month wait to take the test); and the lawyer who was required to pass the multi-state portion of the bar exam a second time, because more than 37 months (the BBE's limit on transferability) had passed since he had successfully taken the multi-state portion in another state. (It is hard for me to understand how a board that contains several U.W. and Marquette law school grads - who are not required to pass the multi-state bar exam at all - can make someone who has already passed it in another state jump that hurdle a second time, but that's just my sense of fairness.) And there were other examples.
Now, after two years of interaction with the BBE since my election (though not necessarily because of it), I am happy to report that the sun does appear to be rising. A new director, chair, vice chair, and members seem to have instilled a kinder, gentler attitude on the board and the BBE staff; a new grading policy has been adopted that should make the bar exam a bit less onerous to pass; and the BBE is beginning to do some long-range strategic planning and is starting a process of reexamining board rules and policies. Also, the BBE has been working with a State Bar committee to develop a conditional bar admission rule and a CLE comity rule. Good faith differences in policy are natural and inevitable, and there are still some areas to be worked on (the BBE's lack of written procedural rules is one area I can think of), but I hope this is the beginning of a long, cooperative relationship between Wisconsin lawyers and the BBE.
In writing this column, I've tried to straddle a difficult line between unnecessarily emphasizing problems of the past at one extreme and sweeping everything under the rug at the other. Dwelling on past problems is unfair to a "new," forward-looking BBE and is bound to cause not-so-nice feelings that will benefit no one. BBE members volunteer their time and effort in a difficult task, and their service to the bar is much appreciated by me, as is their recognition that some changes should be made. On the other hand, not mentioning that there have been problems would denigrate the time and effort made by State Bar members to contact me and the State Bar with their BBE-related problems. I've tried my best to bring up these issues in a positive way, so that others won't have to repeat what some of you have gone through, and I appreciate your time and effort in coming forward.
It may be too early to join hands around the campfire and sing Kumbahyah, but it looks to me that the sun is rising at the BBE.
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