The Arizona Supreme Court has approved a proposal that will allow law students to take the state bar exam during their third year of law school.
The decision makes Arizona the first state in the nation to broadly allow all qualified law students to take the bar before they graduate.
The University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law developed the proposal, which was submitted jointly by the state’s three law schools in an effort to help move law students from classroom to practice as quickly as possible.
“There are 45,000 or 50,000 graduates a year around the country competing for law jobs, and increasingly, employers, both public and private, have said, ‘Until you are a member of a bar, we can’t or won’t hire you,’” said Marc Miller, dean of the UA College of Law. “Those students who follow this path and take the exam in their third year will be able to work sooner, earn income sooner and provide value to clients sooner.”
The Arizona bar exam is offered twice a year – in February and July. Traditionally, law students begin exam preparation after graduation in May and take the test in July. They must then wait until October for their results.
Beginning as early as February 2014, students at all three law schools in Arizona – the UA’s James E. Rogers College of Law, Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law and the private Phoenix School of Law – will have the option of taking the exam in February of their third year of law school, provided they have met certain academic requirements and are due to graduate within 120 days of the test date. They will get their results back in June, shortly after graduation.
Just like medical students take their boards while they are still in school, it makes sense, both professionally and economically, for law students to be able to take the bar before they graduate, say those who drafted the proposal.
“Instead of being unemployed during the summer and studying for the bar exam, you could start working at the beginning of that summer, bringing in money,” said Sally Rider, associate dean of the UA College of Law, who was instrumental in drafting the proposal.
“As soon as you graduate, you have to start making loan payments, so instead of being stuck for the summer trying to live, make loan payments and study for the bar, you could actually be employed,” she said.
Students who prefer to wait to take the test until after graduation will still be able to do so, taking the usual third-year classes and clinics. In a recent UA poll of second-year law students, 45 students, about a third of the class, said they would want to sit for the exam in their third year.
Those who do take the exam early must have already completed 90 percent of their required credits and can have no more than eight credit hours left to take after the exam.
Those students will spend January and February of their final semester in law school taking bar preparation courses instead of their regular course load. The remainder of the semester will be spent completing courses specifically designed to prepare them to enter practice.
At the UA, those courses will be delivered in an eight- to 10-week “theory-to-practice residency,” a capstone program designed to explore real-world, practical topics relevant to legal professionals, such as applied ethics and professionalism, economics of modern law practice, cutting-edge issues in policy and law and how to better serve client needs.
That residency program is currently being developed by a committee of UA law faculty and legal professionals, under the direction of Susan Salmon, UA assistant director of legal writing and associate clinical professor of law.
Miller said he is grateful to the Arizona Supreme Court for allowing the state’s law schools to try something different.
“This kind of innovation is only possible in a state where the court is willing to think about new directions and where the bench and bar are willing to be open to it,” he said. “While the law schools took the lead in proposing this, you need an entire state legal institution that’s willing to conduct a thoughtful experiment.”