Committee Proposes Alternative to Bar Exam for Aspiring South Dakota Lawyers

Committee Proposes Alternative to Bar Exam for Aspiring South Dakota Lawyers

A steering committee assembled by the South Dakota Supreme Court has proposed allowing an alternative option for law students to become licensed attorneys in the state.

The 51-page report from the committee recommends creating a pathway for students interested in public interest law or serving rural communities. Rather than taking the bar exam, eligible students would complete required courses and an externship under the supervision of training attorneys. They would also commit to two years of public service work post-graduation.

The committee was comprised of representatives from the judiciary, state bar association, Board of Bar Examiners and University of South Dakota School of Law. They met to study issues around bar admission in South Dakota at the request of the Supreme Court.

Their recommendation comes after the state legislature debated a bill in 2021 that would have let law school graduates practice without a passing score on the bar exam. Currently, passing the exam administered by the Board of Bar Examiners is mandatory to be licensed to practice law in South Dakota.

The report acknowledges South Dakota’s legal community is at a crossroads. It aims to ensure new lawyers are competent while also addressing the growing unmet legal needs of residents, especially in rural areas. Most committee members agreed to keeping the bar exam but supported supervised practice as an alternative option.

The South Dakota Supreme Court will now accept public comment on the committee’s proposals at a future hearing. Any changes would be considered for implementation later this year. The proposals could potentially make it easier for law students interested in public service to become attorneys, especially in underserved parts of the state.


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