In a US First, Oregon Now Allows Law Students to Become Lawyers Through Apprenticeships Instead of the Bar Exam

The bar exam. Those three words bring nightmares to law students, whether they be current, graduated, or dropped out. If you want to become a lawyer licensed to practice law, you have to pass the bar exam, a grueling two day test that tests your knowledge of US law to its very limits. There are no exceptions. Well, at least that’s how it used to be.

As the nation’s first, the Oregon Supreme Court has now passed a system that will allow you to bypass the test completely in lieu of a post-graduation apprenticeship.

This doesn’t mean an apprenticeship will be any easier by any stretch of the imagination. You have to log in hundreds of hours at a law firm and submit samples of your work to be reviewed by the new system put in place by the Supreme Court. This system, the Supervised Practice Portfolio Examination, is the first of its kind within the country, though many are of the belief that it won’t be the last.

This isn’t put in by any random suggestion, but is instead backed by those who administer the bar exam: the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners. According to them, having different pathways to show one’s competence to practice law creates a better bar. In other words, this is approved and backed by many actual lawyers who have experience in their field. They’re sure this will lead to many states following suit, and they’re excited to be joined by them in strengthening the bar. In fact, several other states are already studying the effectiveness of apprenticeship programs, including California and Utah.

In July of 2023, roughly 31% of students failed the bar exam, according to the Oregon State Bar. It’s believed that through the Supervised Practice Portfolio Examination, many of those who have failed will be able to get admittance through. After all, many studies have shown that not everyone learns the same way. Professors have pointed out that the bar exam, a standardized test, requires a level of memorization that lawyers don’t actually need in their day to day jobs. Hundreds of hours of study for one of the hardest tests in the country should equal that of hundreds of hours of real hands-on experience.

Said experience will include 675 hours of logged work while supervised by a practicing attorney, as well as eight submitted documents, such as contracts, lawsuits, analysis memos, and motions. They also need to perform two client interviews and two negotiation sessions. There are many other requirements to be submitted, but these are just the big ones to note.

This doesn’t mean that the bar exam is dead by any stretch of the imagination. Many are still going for it, because the score would allow admittance into more than 30 other state bars. Because this apprenticeship program has only ever been instituted by Oregon, those who gain entrance into the bar are only allowed to practice law within Oregon. If you are planning on practicing law anywhere else, you need to pass the bar exam or simply wait until other states pass a similar apprenticeship system. Even then, it’s not a guarantee that they’ll accept those who have passed other apprenticeship programs.


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