Diploma privilege with apprenticeship would reduce law students’ burden, says Rep. Fitzgerald

Diploma privilege with apprenticeship would reduce law students’ burden, says Rep. Fitzgerald

Earlier this month, South Dakota Chief Justice Steven Jensen, while giving the annual State of the Judiciary Address to the Legislature, urged lawmakers to hold off on altering the bar admission procedure while a committee investigates it.

Jensen provided a thorough defense of the bar exam and argued in support of making it mandatory for all aspiring attorneys in South Dakota.

“Some of the criticism of the bar examination is that is it too hard. Respectfully, the process to assess competence must be rigorous,” Jensen said. “Lawyers occupy unique positions of trust and responsibility. Clients place their confidence in lawyers to represent them in questions concerning their property, their liberty, and in the most serious criminal cases, their lives. “The legal profession is not unique in requiring a written competency examination. Doctors, accountants, and many other professionals are required to prove their preparedness, as well. This is to protect the public. The requisite education for professional licensure is a significant step in the process, but an assessment of the ability to practice in the profession is both expected and necessary.”

A few hours following Jensen’s remarks, Representative Mary Fitzgerald, R-Spearfish, vowed to introduce a measure to alter the bar exam. Fitzgerald tried unsuccessfully to pass a bill last year that would have granted graduates of the University of South Dakota School of Law “diploma privilege” and allowed them to start practicing without completing the bar exam.

Fitzgerald is offering a new version of the bill this session. Her revised proposal would require USD Law graduates to pass the ethics portion of the test and complete a 1,000-hour apprenticeship with a licensed attorney in South Dakota with at least five years of experience. If approved, graduates would be able to choose to take the bar exam or the apprenticeship.

According to Fitzgerald, a diploma privilege with an apprenticeship would lessen the pressure on students and increase the number of attorneys who are accessible.

“If you can go to law school and pass all those exams, you ought to be able to practice law in South Dakota,” Fitzgerald said.


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