South Dakota Rejects Alternatives to A Bar Exam

Future attorneys from the state of South Dakota will not get to use their diplomas to bypass taking the state bar exam that helps determine whether a person becomes licensed to practice law.

The House State Affairs Committee made the decision Wednesday, voting 8-4 to reject an attempt to restore “diploma privilege” to South Dakota. The State had allowed law graduates to claim diploma privilege from 1903 to 1983.

Representative Mary Fitzgerald sponsored the legislation to bring it back. She and others told the committee the bar exam has been difficult for some students.

“This current bar exam has contributed to young people leaving the State,” she said.

Another supporter of restoring diploma privilege was Roger Baron. A retired University of South Dakota Law School faculty member, he said that students who are slow, methodical readers sometimes do not have time to finish the multiple-choice portion.

South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Jensen was the first opponent to testify. “This is fundamentally an issue the Supreme Court should take up and not the Legislature,” he said.

The chief justice said only 17 people had failed South Dakota’s exam since 2013. People can take the exam three times, he said, and the court has been liberal in allowing more tries.

“We’re talking about a very few,” Jensen said. “This is not an issue that is impacting the practice of law in South Dakota.”

Representative Jon Hansen, R-Dell Rapids, was the only lawyer on the committee. “The bar exam is brutal. It is a brutal test,” he said, recalling six weeks of studying 10 to 12 hours a day preparing and walking out with no idea whether he’d passed. “It literally is just devastating on your life.”

Hansen said he knew of instances where “really bright people” hadn’t been able to pass the exam. “I do hope the Supreme Court will take a serious look at this,” he said.

While South Dakota is obviously a relatively small state and only has one ABA-accredited law school, the decision is important, as states all across the country have been facing similar pressure to do away with the requirement of a bar exam and instead allow diploma privilege to suffice for admission to the legal profession. Recently however there has been pushback, with most states opting to keep the bar exam requirement.

You can read more about this controversial issue here.

With just over a week remaining until the February Bar Exam, you can still get last minute help understanding concepts that you don’t quite “get.“ Now is the time to ask for help if you have not done so already. You can learn more about our famed bar exam tutoring program here.