Arizona's Diploma Privilege: There. . . And Back Again?
Arizona Attorney, Fall 2022. A revised version of this paper is in progress and will appear in a two-part series for Arizona Attorney, the official publication of the State Bar of Arizona, in Fall 2022. Posted with permission.
13 Pages Posted: 6 Apr 2022 Last revised: 26 Apr 2022
Date Written: December 31, 2021
The Bar Examination is a longstanding hallmark of the legal profession, with most states administering it in some form for at least a century. This gateway into legal practice, however, has not always been viewed as a necessary, or even useful, way to ensure the competent practice of law. In the early 1900s, numerous states—including Arizona—allowed law-school graduates to be admitted to the bar based “upon their diplomas,” under certain conditions. And this “diploma privilege” is not unheard of today: it is still practiced in Wisconsin and a limited version is recognized in New Hampshire. The diploma privilege assumed special significance during the COVID-19 pandemic after several states elected to temporarily admit recent graduates without examination.
This Article discusses Arizona’s brief jaunt with diploma privilege from 1919 to 1925, when law graduates of the University of Arizona were “admitted to the bar of Arizona on their diplomas.” An examination of this history and of the arguments expressed for and against revocation of Arizona’s privilege reveals that conversations about diploma privilege have not significantly changed over the past century. The Article then surveys the continued existence of diploma privilege today in Wisconsin, New Hampshire, and five other jurisdictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This Article also briefly discusses the rise of the bar exam, its endorsement by accrediting bodies, and its hold on the legal profession today. Of course, some view the bar examination as a proper rite of passage. Others believe it is an important safeguard protecting the public from incompetent attorneys. Some have found it to be a formidable barrier to legal practice. For many, it is yet another mysterious and formalistic fixture of the legal profession. This Article grapples with these competing viewpoints and, in closing, invites Arizona’s legal community to rethink the utility, efficacy, and fairness of the bar exam, and to consider alternatives to examination that could bestow significant benefits upon Arizona’s residents and legal community.
Keywords: bar exam, diploma privilege, Arizona, legal history, legal education, legal practice, lawyers, law school accreditation, law students, law graduates, American Bar Association, ABA
JEL Classification: K
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation