Iowa may cut bar exam for some law students

 DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa may allow graduates of the state's two law schools to start practicing law in the state without taking the bar exam.

The Des Moines Register reports the Iowa State Bar Association is considering the idea to help young lawyers get started quickly without accumulating more debt.
Typically, graduates of the University of Iowa and Drake University law schools must wait 4 1/2 months after graduation before learning whether they passed the bar exam. During that time, many student take out more loans for living expenses.
"For most students, it really is just wasted time because they're not able to practice, they aren't able to get out and start earning money to pay off those student debts," said Allan Vestal, Drake law school dean.
University of Iowa law students graduate with $95,574 in debt on average. Drake law school graduates have $106,368 in debt on average.
Vestal told the newspaper that finishing with less debt would make it easier for new lawyers to consider taking jobs in Iowa's smaller communities, where the pay is typically lower. New lawyers are needed in small towns to replace retiring lawyers.
The proposal would still require graduates to pass an ethics exam and background check. Graduates would also have to take a class on Iowa laws and court procedure.
If the proposal is approved, Iowa would become only the second state to use such a system. Wisconsin is currently the only one.
Since 2008, only 6.8 percent of the 996 Iowa law school graduates failed to pass the bar exam on their first try. But critics say the bar exam is a useful tool to help protect clients' rights.
Erica Moeser with the National Conference of Bar Examiners said law students probably pay more attention in school because they must pass the exam. Moeser's nonprofit group writes the bar exams.
"I wouldn't go to a physician that I didn't feel like had been through a testing process," she said. "I don't know why the public should feel any different about lawyers."
The Iowa Supreme Court will review the proposal this summer when the justices consider administrative matters. If it is approved, public comment will likely be solicited before a final rule is adopted.

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