Bar exam alternatives gain American Bar Association backing

The American Bar Association (ABA) Section on Legal Education has endorsed alternative pathways to attorney licensing that do not require taking the bar exam. This represents a significant shift in policy from its traditional stance of only recognising the Bar Exam route to qualification. The move comes in response to the growing number of states adopting non-exam routes for licensing law graduates, driven by concerns over racial disparities in bar exam pass rates and the financial burden of the exam. States like Oregon and Washington have introduced apprenticeship and skills coursework options as alternatives to the Bar Exam in both States.

The Section’s new policy statement highlights the need for licensing pathways that address the exclusion of racial and ethnic minorities and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds from the legal profession. It also calls on US State Bars to ensure that jurisdictional mobility is not undermined for those using these alternative pathways. Although the ABA accredits law schools for US wide recognition, provides guidance through its policy statements and suggested model rules for States to follow, it does not have authority over the licensing of new lawyers, which is managed by State courts and regulatory bodies.

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