Iowa Bar No More?
The Hawkeye State is thinking of making a big change to the way it deals with young law school graduates. There’s a proposal before the Iowa State Supreme Court that would allow graduates of Iowa’s law schools to practice law without passing the bar. The proposal is very specific–it would only apply to graduates of Iowa’s two law schools: The University of Iowa School of Law and Drake Law School. In order to be eligible to not take the bar, the graduates would have to remain in Iowa to practice law after graduation. They would still have to pass the ethics and background tests, as well as take a class on Iowa specific laws and legislation.
This concept is known as in-state diploma privilege, and currently, Wisconsin is the only state that officially offers it, although New Hampshire offers it on a case by case basis.
There are many pros and cons to in-state diploma privilege, and a debate about the subject has taken center stage in Iowa. The proposal is backed by the Iowa State Bar Association, as well as the dean of Drake Law School. However, the Governor of Iowa, Gov. Terry Branstad, disagrees with the idea. He stated that, “as someone who took the bar, I think they ought to take the bar.” He also pointed out that medical students are required to sit through more intensive exams before becoming doctors.
One of the pros to in-state diploma privilege is that it allows law students to begin work sooner. After graduation, law graduates have to study for the bar for a few months, and then wait for the results. There are a lot of expenses associated with not working, or working a non-permanent job during this period of limbo. They may require loans for their living expenses The Dean of Drake Law School, Allan Vestal, said, point blank that those months in between graduation and receiving bar results are “a waste of time.”
Another reason that the bar exam is being called unnecessary is that last year, only 6.8% of Iowans taking the bar didn’t pass on the first try, and most of those passed on the second time around.
On the other hand, there are certain benefits to the bar. One is that it may keep students paying attention through their third year, even if they already have a job offer. Another reason that getting rid of the bar in Iowa may be harmful is that it precludes those young lawyers from going to another state. Currently 14 states use essentially the same bar, and it’s possible to move between them without issue. If the Iowa students don’t take any bar, it may prevent them from moving to another state practice ever. While that could be good for Iowa, it would be harmful to that student.
There are other suggestions for a more middle ground approach to the Iowa bar exam. An attorney from Des Moines, Angela Campbell, has pointed out that one of the arguments against the bar is that there’s nothing really Iowa specific on it, so it should be made more relevant instead of done away with. It will be up to the State Supreme Court to see which set of arguments they agree with.
Anneliese Mahoney (@AMahoney8672) is Lead Editor at Law Street and a Connecticut transplant to Washington D.C. She has a Bachelor’s degree in International Affairs from the George Washington University, and a passion for law, politics, and social issues. Contact Anneliese at amahoney@LawStreetMedia.com.
Featured image courtesy of [HeatherMG via Flickr]