Oregon to Allow Alternatives to Passing The Bar Exam?

During the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, several state bars weighed the idea of allowing law graduates to obtain “diploma privilege”, to become fully licensed attorneys to practice law without taking the bar exam. Almost all of these states, however, ended up focusing on reforming the bar itself, as opposed to actually getting rid of it.

The State of Oregon, however, may prove to be a rare exception. The Oregon State Bar Board of Bar Examiners has now adopted a task force report proposing supervised practice or law school experiential-learning programs as bar exam alternatives for attorney licensing.

The approach suggested would not actually end the option of graduates taking the bar exam, but instead providing an alternative to those who want them.

Brian Gallini, Dean at Willamette University College of Law and a member of the Oregon Task Force, says “we produced something that I think takes a really holistic approach to licensure. The Uniform Bar Exam is still there for those who want it, but for those who go to school in Oregon, there is the Oregon experiential pathway, and there’s a supervised practice pathway for those who come from out of state.”

For admission through a law school program, which the task force calls the “Oregon experiential pathway,” students would complete two years of specific learning. It would be available starting with 2024 graduates.

In addition to legal research, writing and issue spotting, the learning would include argument development, written and oral advocacy and legal analysis.

Regarding the supervised practice recommendation, the task force suggests applicants complete between 1,000 and 1,500 hours with supervision from a licensed Oregon attorney who has at least 5 years of practice experience and no record of public discipline.

Qualifying activities suggested for supervised practice include advising business clients on employee matters, continuing legal education courses and developing policies for nonprofit groups or government agencies.

Assuming these proposals are actually implemented, it will be interesting to see how these changes affect newly admitted attorneys in Oregon starting in a few years and how both the legal profession and the clients it serves react to the idea of attorneys becoming admitted through these bar exam alternative paths.

You can read more about this new proposal here.

One question we have is whether it would be public record as to which attorneys in Oregon became licensed by taking and passing the bar exam and which became licensed through one of these alternative means, and if so, whether the attorneys who became licensed through exam alternatives would be at any disadvantage in terms of law firm hiring or even in the minds of potential clients?