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Willamette University law dean, Oregon task force recommend alternative pathways to licensure beyond traditional bar exam

by Willamette University,

Oregon Supreme Court to consider other measures endorsed by Oregon Board of Bar Examiners.

After months of study and review, a task force of Oregon attorneys and legal educators issued a formal recommendation that the state consider other ways for recent law school graduates to show competency beyond the traditional bar exam.

“This is a tremendous and historic shift in the thinking around attorney licensure,” said Brian Gallini, dean of the Willamette University College of Law and a member of the task force. “That the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners endorsed these proposals without any changes also shows, fundamentally, a forward-thinking recognition that the bar exam as we know it is not the only way for new lawyers to show minimum competency.”

The Oregon State Bar’s Alternatives to the Exam task force, which formed last year to explore additional long-term options after the state granted temporary diploma privilege during the COVID-19 pandemic, recommended two alternatives to the traditional test. One is an experiential learning pathway in which students would focus on experiential coursework during their last two years of law school and submit a capstone portfolio to the state Board of Bar Examiners upon graduation. The second is a supervised practice pathway in which students would work between 1,000 and 1,500 hours under the supervision of a licensed attorney before submitting a portfolio of work to the Board of Bar Examiners to show minimum competency.

The task force recently submitted its report and recommendations to the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners, which unanimously voted to advance them to the Oregon Supreme Court. The court will now consider whether to adopt the recommendations and will make a decision within the next several months.

If the changes are accepted by the court, law graduates in the Class of 2024 could be the first eligible to choose an alternative to the test. The Oregon State Bar Association, the Board of Bar Examiners and the state’s law schools would have to collaborate and shift curricula to accommodate the new pathways, Gallini said.

Oregon was one of only five states to grant diploma privilege to law school graduates last year, allowing them to work without sitting for the test as long as they met certain academic requirements. The state is now leading the country as it considers alternatives to professional licensure beyond the traditional bar exam.

Willamette is already poised to adopt these changes, and students are eager to have options, he added. Last year, after they were granted diploma privilege, a group of about 20 Willamette Law graduates formed their own task force and spent hours of time they would have otherwise spent studying for the bar exam reviewing explicit and implicit bias in the use of peremptory challenges in Oregon. They collaborated on a 40-page report that calls for a significant overhaul of how the challenge is used in Oregon courts and makes recommendations about how to make change. It was recently submitted to the Oregon Supreme Court’s Committee on Bias in the Oregon Justice System.

“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.”

About Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

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