Willamette’s Law School Dean: The Bar Exam Shouldn’t Be The Only Pathway To Practicing Law

Willamette’s Law School Dean: The Bar Exam Shouldn’t Be The Only Pathway To Practicing Law

Brian Gallini, dean of Willamette University’s College of Law, said that the bar exam isn’t going anywhere, but it shouldn’t be the only pathway to practicing law.

“The ability to memorize facts and pass a multiple-choice test is not a predictor of what makes a good lawyer. Moving beyond the bar exam empowers law schools and the bar to train new lawyers for the 21st century in a manner that serves both consumer protection and equity,” Gallini said. “At Willamette, we’re thrilled and we’re ready to be on the front end of these long overdue changes to licensure.”

Gallini, who is also a member of a task force that looked at possible options for licensure in the state of Oregon, said that people outside the legal profession often misunderstand the bar exam and how it functions currently.

While most states use a national bar exam, each of them sets its own “cut.” Oregon’s is in the middle among participating states, which means a student who “fails” the bar for Oregon could be admitted to practice law in 17 other states.

Last year, the Oregon State Bar task force came up with two recommendations for law school graduates to become licensed to practice law in the stae without taking the bar, which the Oregon Board of Examiners advanced to the Oregon Supreme Court. One option focuses on advanced experiential work during law school, while the other suggests apprenticeships with working lawyers after graduation.

In January of this year, the Oregon Supreme Court unanimously approved the two ideas in concept, though details on when and how they’ll be implemented still need to be worked out and get the court’s approval.

According to Gallini, the changes will require Oregon’s three law schools, which include Lewis & Clark and the University of Oregon, to shift their curriculum and incorporate more hands-on work.

“We want the law schools to be excited about this,” he said. “We don’t want this to be top down.”


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