No bar exam required to practice Law in Oregon starting next year

Law graduates will be able to become licensed in Oregon without taking the bar exam, starting in May 2024.

The Oregon Supreme Court on Tuesday approved an alternative licensing program that bar exam reformers hope will spur further innovation in other states. After law school, candidates will spend 675 hours working under the supervision of an experienced attorney and create a portfolio of legal work that bar officials will grade as an alternative to the traditional bar exam.

The program, called the Supervised Practice Portfolio Examination, will be open to graduates of both in-state and out-of-state law schools — a departure from the two existing alternative licensing programs in the country.

Wisconsin allows graduates of the state’s two law schools to become licensed without passing the bar in what is known as a diploma privilege, and New Hampshire allows a small cohort of law students who complete a specialized curriculum to bypass the bar.

Those seeking to become licensed in Oregon will still have the option to take the bar exam. The State Bar of California is considering a similar alternative attorney licensing pathway.

The Oregon State Board of Bar Examiners, which developed the program, also plans to create a second alternative licensing pathway in which students at the state’s three law schools would spend their last two years of law school completing practice-based course work. But it decided to move forward with the supervised practice option first. Last year, 531 people took the bar exam in Oregon.

The traditional bar exam model has come under increased scrutiny since COVID-19 disrupted the attorney licensing test in many states, and critics have argued that it doesn’t adequately test the skills new lawyers need in practice. An updated national bar exam with a greater focus on skills is slated to debut in 2026.

Oregon was among the five states that adopted some form of diploma privilege in the early months of the pandemic. But all five states had since returned to requiring the bar exam.

In addition to completing 675 hours of paid legal work, participants in Oregon’s new program must submit at least eight examples of legal writing, take the lead in at least two initial client interviews or client counseling sessions, and head up two negotiations, among other requirements. The applicants’ portfolios would then be graded by Oregon bar examiners, and those with qualifying scores would be sworn into the state bar.

Candidates may apply 100 hours of supervised legal work performed in law school clinics or internships toward the 675-hour requirement. [Reuters]

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