The bar exam, which has instilled fear in the hearts of future lawyers since 1783, might be undergoing a significant transformation—at least in Oregon.
The Beaver State is on the brink of introducing a comprehensive attorney licensing route that would circumvent the conventional bar exam, potentially setting a new precedent for the country.
In this post, we’ll take a look at the details of Oregon’s proposal, explore the backdrop of the bar exam, and consider the broader implications of such a move in the legal industry.
What is the bar exam?
The bar exam is a two-day exam (or, in some cases, a three-day exam) administered in each state to assess whether the examinee is competent to practice law in that state. The format for each state’s exam is slightly different, but generally includes the following sections:
- Multistate Bar Examination (MBE)
- Multistate Essay Exam (MEE)
- State-specific multiple-choice and essay questions
- Multistate Performance Test (MPT)
- Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE)
The first bar exam was actually administered in Delaware in 1783. However, this bar exam, which was oral, bears little resemblance to today’s written and comprehensive format.
Learn more about the bar exam, including a detailed explanation of each section with sample questions.
Disruptions during COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 led to unprecedented disruptions, including disruptions to the traditional bar exam format. With physical testing centers deemed high-risk areas, several states began exploring alternatives to the standard bar exam.
Oregon was one of five states to temporarily adopt a measure allowing recent law graduates to gain licensing without sitting for the bar exam. Although the measure was only temporary, it sparked a larger discussion about potential alternatives to the bar exam.
Oregon’s proposed alternative
The Oregon Supreme Court is currently considering a proposal that would allow law graduates to obtain their law license by working 675 hours under an experienced attorney’s supervision. This alternative program, called the “Supervised Practice Portfolio Examination (SPPE),” has several additional requirements.
Here’s a look at the main requirements recent law graduates would need to satisfy:
|Oregon’s proposed “Supervised Practice Portfolio” requirements|
The portfolios would be reviewed and graded by Oregon bar examiners. A comprehensive list of requirements can be found on the Oregon State Bar Licensure Pathway Development Committee's homepage.
In a commendable move to ensure the fair treatment of graduates, especially given the rising cost of law school, the program also stipulates that participants be compensated for their work.
When one law school implements a new policy, it’s not uncommon for others to follow suit. For years, critics have questioned the fairness and usefulness of the bar exam. Some states have taken small steps away from the traditional bar exam. For example, a number of states have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), which allows individuals to pass the bar in one state and practice in another state. Taking it a step further, New Hampshire offers a limited pathway for students who have undergone a specialized curriculum to receive their license without taking the bar exam.
The potential ripple of Oregon’s move is evident. It’s entirely possible that at some point in the future, most states offer a path similar to Oregon’s SPPE approach.
What’s more, the Oregon State Board of Bar Examiners isn’t stopping at just one alternative. Plans are in motion to introduce another licensing route that would involve students at Oregon’s law schools devoting their final two years to practice-based coursework.
Oregon is set to vote on the alternative in early September. We’ll update this post with any developments. In the meantime, future lawyers can find helpful resources in the Enjuris Student Center.