The Iowa Supreme Court wants to  hear from the public on a proposal from the Iowa State Bar Association that would allow graduates of Drake University Law School and the University of Iowa College of Law to skip the current requirement of passing the state bar examination before practicing law in the state. 

We wanted to give a chance for the business community to voice its opinion on the proposal. From our unscientific survey, it seems the Iowa State Bar Association is going to need to do some further education and persuasion on its proposal. The vote was overwhelmingly against doing away with the bar exam requirement.

The bar association, in recommending the change, pointed to the fact that just 1 percent of the graduates of the state’s two law schools fail to pass the exam, which it says indicates that the great majority are graduating with a firm knowledge of law. In addition, the bar examination does not test on Iowa law, but is a multistate examination. It also said that a lapse of time between graduation and being admitted to bar after taking the examination can add significantly to student debt, with those costs accounting for up to 30 percent of student loans.

The rebuttals we heard hinged on primarily three issues. First, many respondents weren’t very comfortable with the idea of being represented by the 1 percent who currently fail the bar exam. Second, a few lawyers felt that there was learning that occurred simply by having to study for the exam itself. Lastly, there was concern that if there is no longer a test, in say five years, there would be no check and balance on the universities to ensure that the schools are still producing quality lawyers.

Again, our poll is not statistically scientific, and it might be that the proposal has more merit and could work around a few of these issues. Still, these were the initial reactions, and they weren’t positive. The bar association is accepting official comments through July 14. A public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 27. 

For information on submitting official comments or to see the full bar association report, go here.

WE asked:

TRUE or FALSE: The Iowa Supreme Court should drop the requirement to pass the bar examination for Drake University and University of Iowa law school graduates.

Results: 16% True/ 84% False

False Responses:

"If student loan burden is the driver for this proposed reform, law schools need to evaluate and align tuition costs to the market value of a law degree. The public must be guaranteed a minimum level of competence by licensed attorneys and the bar exam provides that minimum protection."
-Jeremy Danilson, Corporate Counsel, Proxymity

"Admission to practice law should be more stringent, not less. In my experience, preparation for the bar was useful in ‘bringing it all together,’ which can be especially important for those who don’t complete law school in one three-year block. Without an exam, we create ‘second-class’ lawyers."
-Jonathan Wilson, Senior Shareholder, Davis Brown Law Firm

"No independent verification of the applicant’s legal knowledge retention. Plus there is much learning to be had in studying for the bar. Another example of dumbing down the process."
-Steve Lytle, Attorney, Nyemaster Goode P.C.

"So now Iowa is considering becoming the ‘close-enough’ state? Imagine getting one of the ‘1 percent of the graduates’ who wouldn’t pass the bar exam as your lawyer, and then tell me that you’d be okay with these odds when you’re paying $300 per hour for their legal services. While we’re at it, get rid of state medical board exams and certification for public accountants - I’m sure most of them would pass their exams too."

"The real problem with the law profession is that there are not enough jobs for law school graduates. The result 
of this proposal will be to increase admission for the law schools, which will magnify the problem."

"1 percent of them fail to pass the exam, but how many have to take it multiple times before passing?"

True Responses:

"Because the bar exam doesn’t teach Iowa law. It is a waste of time."

"This might keep more young attorneys in Iowa where they are needed in smaller towns with aging populations and retiring senior attorneys."