University of Wisconsin law school graduates can breathe a little easier knowing they still do not have to take the bar exam to practice law in Wisconsin following a state Supreme Court decision Monday.
The court unanimously denied changes to the Wisconsin Diploma Policy despite a petition filed by bar members to change it, according to Tom Sheehan, Supreme Court Information Officer.
The Wisconsin Diploma Policy allows graduates from the two law schools of Wisconsin-University of Wisconsin Law School and Marquette University Law School-to gain membership to the Wisconsin State Bar upon receiving their diploma without taking the bar exam.
The petition, organized by over 70 state bar members, requested the state Supreme Court to give out-of-state law school graduates looking to practice in Wisconsin the same opportunity. Specifically, the petitioners hoped to remove the words “in this state” from the law.
According to the petition, with this change any American Bar Association-accredited law school graduate would be able to seek employment in Wisconsin under the same conditions faced by a Wisconsin law school graduate.
The petitioners said the current policy is discriminatory to out-of-state graduates.
“Requiring a bar exam of graduates of law schools located outside Wisconsin imposes a substantial financial, time, pressure, family and employment disadvantage burden,” the petition said.
Supporters of the current Diploma Policy argue the rule is not unreasonably discriminatory and is still within the constraints of the law.
The rationale behind the law makes it justifiable, said Keith Findley, political science professor at UW-Madison.
“The Supreme Court has confidence in Wisconsin law schools…there’s no reason to change the policy,” Findley said.
Wisconsin is the only state with this type of Diploma Policy, according to Findley.
Although the petition was filed by members of the State Bar Association, the State Bar Board of Governors voted against the petition, said Tom Solberg, Public Relations Coordinator of the Wisconsin State Bar.
That decision was based on the caliber of law instruction in Wisconsin, Solberg said.
“It’s a system that has worked for 100 years,” Solberg said.
The Diploma Policy did apply to out-of-state graduates at one time and according to the petition, the privilege was extended to graduates of out-of-state law schools from 1897 to 1903.
Rather than teaching solely for the bar exam, which often hinders learning, Wisconsin law professors teach Wisconsin policy and how to apply it, Findley said.
According to Findley, the Supreme Court established a list of classes Wisconsin law students must take to receive their diploma because the classes are meant to prepare them for practicing law in Wisconsin.
“It’s a great way to keep bright students here in Wisconsin,” Findley said.
According to Findley, in Wisconsin, the Bar Exam is a two part process: One part is devoted to a “multi-state” law test, common to most state bar exams, while the second part is specific to Wisconsin law.
Other schools may not look at Wisconsin policy the way the law schools of UW-Madison and Marquette University do, Findley said.
On the other hand, petitioners argued the Wisconsin Bar Exam is not meant to test memorization of Wisconsin law, but rather to get test-takers to think and reason like lawyers.