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Md. law deans endorse bar admission without exam

(The Daily Record file photo)

University of Baltimore School of Law Dean Ronald Weich, and the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law Dean Donald B. Tobin, jointly sent a letter to Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera calling for bar applicants to forgo this fall’s exam and be admitted if they graduated from an American Bar Association accredited law school and pass the state’s tests of professional responsibility and character evaluation. (The Daily Record file photo)

Amid the pandemic, Maryland should permit bar applicants to forgo this fall’s online exam and be admitted if they have graduated from an American Bar Association accredited law school, pass the state’s existing tests of professional responsibility and Maryland law, and complete a character evaluation, the deans of both Maryland law schools stated Wednesday.

In a joint letter to Maryland’s top judge, the deans said the state’s COVID-19-compelled administration of an abbreviated online exam in early October would be unfair to bar applicants who lack the financial or at-home resources to take the test remotely during the “unprecedented obstacles” of the public health emergency.

“Bar applicants need quiet places to study for the exam, and ultimately require a quiet space with a reliable internet connection to sit for a remote exam,” wrote University of Baltimore School of Law Dean Ronald Weich and Donald B. Tobin, dean of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law. “Many recent graduates will lack such surroundings due to their living arrangements, family circumstances and socioeconomic status.”

The deans’ letter to Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera followed a similar request for a “diploma privilege plus system of admission” by a group of recent graduates of Maryland’s and other ABA-accredited law schools who have applied for the state bar. Weich and Tobin stated in their message that they support the graduates’ request “at least on a temporary basis” amid the havoc the virus has wrought to the health, employment, housing and food vulnerability of many of them or their families.

“We are particularly concerned that the consequences of the virus do not fall evenly among our graduates,” the deans wrote.

“We know that social factors, like economic standing and family support, already have an impact on bar success,” they added. “Recent studies indicate that efforts to improve the diversity of the legal profession continue to lag. A bar exam administered under current conditions may distort these inequities even further.”

The states of Louisiana, Oregon, Utah and Washington have adopted diploma privilege bar admission for law school graduates in light of the pandemic, Weich and Tobin stated. Wisconsin has long admitted lawyers based on their having graduated from either of the state’s two law schools, at the University of Wisconsin or Marquette University, the deans added.

Weich and Tobin stated they have “long supported the concept of diploma privilege” based on the quality and rigor of their schools’ curricula.

“We believe our academic programs are strong enough to prepare graduates to practice law effectively and ethically,” they wrote. “Both of our schools emphasize experiential education, including nationally renowned clinics and plentiful externships in which our students gain practical experience to augment their classroom studies.”

The Court of Appeals will make the final decision on whether to adopt diploma privilege and, if so, how broad it will be.

“Wisconsin limits this benefit to graduates of its two law schools, and Maryland might do the same,” Weich stated via email Thursday. “The Court (of Appeals) is familiar with the strong academic programs at UB and UM, and might be comfortable limiting diploma privilege to the schools it knows best.”

Barbera and the State Board of Law Examiners declined to comment Thursday on the deans’ letter.

Maryland’s in person two-day bar exam originally scheduled for the end of July at the Baltimore Convention Center was switched by the Court of Appeals in June to online administration Oct. 5 and 6 due to continuing concern about spreading COVID-19.

Passing grades on the remote exam will qualify for admission to the Maryland bar but will not be transferable to the more than 30 states with which Maryland has reciprocity through its usual administration of the Uniform Bar Exam, the SBLE stated. However, the board added it has reached reciprocity agreements with the District of Columbia and eight states —  Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Ohio, Oregon and Tennessee — as of Thursday.

Applicants who opt for a diploma privilege plus alternative for admission – should it be adopted — would be forgoing the reciprocity with other states that passing the remote exam would provide.

The online, remotely proctored exam will be half as long, consist of fewer questions but cover the same subject areas as the usual 12-hour test.

The online exam will be administered in four 90-minute sessions over the two days and consist of a Multistate Performance Test item, three Multistate Essay Exam items and 100 Multistate Bar Examination Questions prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, which develops the uniform test, SBLE stated.

By contrast, the bar exam generally consists of two performance items, such as drafting a contract provision; six essays and 200 multistate questions.

The Court of Appeals approved the move to a remotely administered test at SBLE’s recommendation.

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One comment


    Is it really a service to them? No it’s not. It’s not a service to anyone, it is easy and easy is not always good. And law school is not just about getting a job it is about knowing something, knowing a lot. We all learn differently but I learned a lot during the bar exam— more than the first three years, I learned the first year fundamentals for the first time because I had to, and it made me quicker and brought three not so coherent years together. Everybody who went through the Bar walked away knowing a lot about a lot. And if you want to see its value, go look at the essay fact patterns. They are easy now, after practicing. Because somehow what the Bar Examiners puts together actually mirrors what we do, Because it is very well designed I don’t know by who makes them up, but it is brilliant, and they worked hard and devaluing what they do is unthoughtful. So maybe there are people who just absorbed everything the first time, but for me it just worked. And while the Bar does not provide practical experience, you walk away knowing a lot of things about a lot of law.

    That could be lost for not all but a lot of them. So I don’t think it is a nice. It is not nice to bulldoze milestones, achievements, knowledge, and to call Shemer Bar review opportunism and treat the Bar Examiners hucksters and say law school is about jobs not knowledge. the knowledge, like knowledge is a bygone fad. The feeling of accomplishment, when you pass, with all your friends (or the reward and promise of resiliency by having to try again )— it would rob all of them, every graduate of that. They won’t learn it, accomplish it or grow from it. And no, lawyers who passed the exam are not proofiteers of privilege. When the Dean of the law school refers to the benefits of “family time” propelling people to passage, he makes no sense. Lawyers didn’t spend time with our families then, we ignored them, badly, it was consuming and purposeful. I also note that the Dean perhaps might not be able to see how this exam relates to practicing law in Maryland because his claim to fame was being a partisan political hill figure, not.a Maryland lawyer. The law school deans are putting an agenda over their students, treating their own law schools like career mills, turning it all into money and success and betraying the intellectualism and body of knowledge only they can defend.