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Why Adopt the Diploma Privilege and abolish the Bar Exam?

• The bar exam does not test on Iowa law.
• The bar exam tests only one’s ability to outwit 200 multiple choice and 8 essay questions from a third party testing service.
• The bar exam does not measure true functional mastery of subject areas or compassion, judgment, and ability to help clients.
• Few remember anything they learned cramming for the bar exam.
• The exam instead serves the following functions:

(1) enriches bar prep services, as well as the testing service and
(2) keeps qualified applicants in limbo from for months, after already completing three years of law school, wondering whether they have passed or will instead have to repeat the test. This benefits no one, not the students, not the legal profession, and not the clients or the existing pool of lawyers.

• Demanding graduates shovel huge amounts of obscure knowledge covering dozens of subjects into their heads for a one-time test is a sure-fire way to minimize retention. This undercuts the stated goal of minimum mastery of a subject area.
• There are good reasons that something like the bar exam was conceived. A means of testing basic competency in certain subject areas. That’s a sensible function.
• If a degree from one of the two excellent accredited law schools in Iowa, however, doesn’t serve the basic competency function we as a profession need to look at the core curriculum of these law schools instead of insisting a memory exam that does not test on Iowa law.
• The diploma privilege does just that. It places authority in the Iowa Supreme Court to determine the competency standard which must be met to be an Iowa licensed lawyer. It requires satisfactory completion over three years of specified course work, including Iowa law and practice, as approved by the Iowa Supreme Court.
• The diploma privilege is a sensible alternative to the bar exam, with many positive consequences. It reduces student debt, stops the brain drain, and increases access to justice, to name a few.
• The fact that we don’t consider change is an indictment of the profession—our blind conservatism and fear of change.

We can and must do better for the next generation of lawyers and citizens of our state



The Iowa State Bar Association • 625 East Court Avenue • Des Moines, IA 50309
Ph. (515) 243-3179 • Fax (515) 243-2511
Email: isba@iowabar.org