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Proposal would allow Arizona law students to take bar exam before graduation

The Arizona Supreme Court will consider a proposal this week to allow the state’s law students to take the bar exam midway through their last year of law school.

The result, if the proposal passes, could be lower student loan debt and quicker consideration for jobs that require bar admission, reports The National Law Journal.

“This will essentially reduce the cost of a legal education by five months,” Marc Miller, dean of the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law, told The National Law Journal. “It’s a direct response to changes not only in the hiring markets but the rising cost of tuition.”

The proposed change also provides Arizona law schools an opportunity to play around with third-year curricula, which critics pan as a waste of time and money.

Under the proposal, students projected to graduate in the spring (and who need just eight or fewer semester credits) would be able to take the February bar exam. January and February would be devoted solely to bar exam preparation. The last semester would be filled with practice-oriented coursework such as clinics, externships and classes on law office management.

Miller first pitched the idea to Arizona’ Chief Justice, Rebecca White Berch, who advised him that such a change would demand the support of The Grand Canyon State’s other two law schools.

Miller next called Doug Sylvester, dean at Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, who loved the idea.

“For me, the economic benefit for students is great,” Sylvester said, according to The National Law Journal. “Anything we can do in a soft market to get more people jobs quickly is something we want to pursue.”

Private, for-profit Phoenix School of Law signed onto the proposal, and the three law schools submitted an introductory proposal for the Arizona Supreme Court’s review.

The idea is not without opposition. Arizona’s Attorney Regulation Advisory Committee has asked the state high court to deny the change out of fear that students who attempt to study for the bar exam while simultaneously taking law school classes will be overwhelmed.

A handful of other states have tried and abandoned the same basic idea. For instance, Georgia ended the practice in 1995 after a couple decades because students were spending all their time studying for the bar.

The fact that Arizona, unlike those states, would greatly modify the curriculum for early bar-exam takers does not mollify critics.

“My fear is that it will negatively impact the third year of the educational experience and essentially turn the third year into a bar prep course,” said Arizona assistant secretary of state Jim Drake, according to The National Law Journal. “I don’t think that’s the right way to go. I see this more as a marketing idea.”

The University of Arizona recently polled 2Ls and found that about one-third would opt for the February bar exam while still in school.

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