Guest Column

I am a 1971 graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law. I passed the Oregon bar exam in 1971 and have practiced with Schwabe, Williamson and Wyatt. I passed the Washington state bar exam in 1983. I respectfully disagree, in large part, with Mr. Joshua Marquis’ position of continuing the bar exam, as expressed in a recent letter to the editor. I salute our Oregon Supreme Court for the practical and humane approach it took as a temporary measure. But I think the bar exam needs substantial overhaul.

In my opinion, bar exams should be substantially modified. I came to that opinion some time back for the following reasons:

  • I saw some students who passed the bar but barely got through law school while seeing others who were solid students throughout law school failing.
  • W
  • hen I took the Washington bar I crammed for several days and passed. I had been a trial lawyer for years and knew trial procedures very well, but there were other substantive areas I did not feel competent handling without help from my colleagues in the firm who were competent and available to me. But for that support, it is questionable whether I was qualified to practice all on my own.
  • I have also watched minority applicants not pass even though they demonstrated knowledge and proficiency, which was sustained for three years of law school.
  • I have watched law school curriculum tend to allow more specialized courses that sacrifice the basic core of subject matter I think is needed. Thus, my request for curriculum approved by our Oregon Supreme Court.
  • I suggest that law schools play a much more prominent part in the process. I suggest law schools require completion of basic subjects which would be approved by our Oregon Supreme Court. I suggest then that any student who successfully completes those courses in the top 90% (or some other percent) be admitted without further examination. Those that can’t stay out of the bottom 10% (or some other percent) must take and pass a bar examination. The grades could remain confidential but provide a basis for not being required to take, or to take, the bar exam. I am keenly aware of the issues of making grades public, and that can be easily solved. I think the incentive to avoid a bar exam would improve overall knowledge of law.

And in the interest of disclosure, I served as a member and as chair as what then was called the Dean’s Advisory Board. I floated this idea on more than one occasion and was met with strong opposition from the law school.

In my opinion, if the public saw the frailties of the bar exam to test competence that I have seen over the years, I strongly suspect they would understand that a better measure of competence is to look for satisfactory completion of approved curriculum rather than cramming for one exam.

Joe Willis is an attorney in Bend.

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