Court loosens state bar exam rule

  • Article by: Abby Simons
  • Star Tribune
  • July 4, 2011 - 6:28 PM

Last week the Minnesota Supreme Court made it easier for prospective Minnesota lawyers to attend the law school of their choice yet still get a shot at practicing here at home.

A June 27 ruling ended a long-standing state requirement that anyone seeking to become a licensed attorney in Minnesota by taking the state's bar exam had to graduate from one of 200 American Bar Association-accredited law schools. Under the new ruling, a graduate of a non-accredited school may now take the bar exam as long as the person has been admitted to practice in another state.

Minnesota has four ABA-accredited law schools: University of Minnesota, Hamline University, St. Thomas University and William Mitchell College of Law. But Oak Brook College of Law in California, a Christian correspondence law school attended by Valarie Wallin of Pequot Lakes and Micah Stanley of Trimont, is one of 42 nationwide that is not accredited. While living in Minnesota, both took online courses at Oak Brook, graduated and passed the California bar exam. But because of the rule, they couldn't sit for the Minnesota exam.

In April 2009, they petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court to change the rule. They were supported by Lee McGrath, executive director of the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter, who believes licensing is often used to reduce competition and raise prices with little evidence of consumer protection.

Attorney Eric Cooperstein, chair of the Rules of Professional Conduct Committee for the Minnesota State Bar Association, said he was surprised by the order. He called what will happen now an "experiment." One possible result is that the competitiveness of unaccredited law schools will drive down the cost of an education, he said.

When Wisconsin adopted the rule, 34 people signed up for the state's bar exam and 28 passed. All of them are still practicing in the state. None has been disciplined, McGrath said.

The new rule goes into effect Sept. 1. Wallin and Stanley can take the Minnesota bar exam as soon as February 2012.

Abby Simons • 612-673-4921

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