Law school faculty establish new licensing procedure

By Halcyon Orvendal

Oregon has announced a new exam-free way to obtain a law license: the Oregon Supervised Practice Portfolio Examination (SPPE). 

This new pathway requires a person who has graduated from an American Bar Association-accredited law school to complete 675 hours of law practice under the supervision of a licensed lawyer. The applicant will then submit a portfolio to the Oregon Board of Bar Examiners, which will then assess whether the person should be granted a license. 

Many Lewis & Clark Law School faculty are key leaders of the movement to push for the SPPE, one of them being Professor of Practice and Director of the Center for Advocacy Joanna Perini-Abbott. 

“People in the community have been talking about more authentic ways to measure attorney competence for decades but things really came to a head in Oregon in 2020,” Perini-Abbott said via email. “COVID-19 made everyone pick their head up and think outside the box on new and different ways to do things. In September of 2020 the Oregon Supreme Court ordered a task force to study whether there were ways to license attorneys other than the bar exam that would provide equal assurances of consumer protection.”

The idea for the SPPE came about when The Oregon Supreme Court and Oregon State Bar Board of Bar Examiners (BBX) put together a task force of people within the legal community.

“We studied what is being done already: diploma privilege from Wisconsin, ‘articling’ from Canada, which is where Supervised Practice came from, and a curriculum-based pathway as is happening in New Hampshire,” Perini-Abbott said. 

Ultimately, the Task Force recommended a combination of supervised practice and the curriculum pathway. The Oregon Supreme Court and BBX approved the idea.  

“Drafting rules for the SPPE moved faster than the curriculum pathway so that is what we focused on getting done first,” Perini-Abbott said. “The program for supervised practice is similar to traditional ‘articling’ from Canada (where a law graduate works under the supervision of a practicing lawyer) but it has an examination component because the BBX will review work done by the apprenticing lawyer to determine if the apprenticing lawyer is competent to practice law.”

Unlike the traditional bar exam, this new pathway offers insight into the actual work that attorneys do and works to prove and determine competence in a  hands-on way, versus a two day test, half of which is multiple choice. 

“From the point of view of the applicant, this pathway lets them start working right after graduation and avoid the cost of taking 2-3 months off to study for the exam, paying for a bar prep course, and waiting two more months for results before they can practice law,” Perini-Abbott said. 

Many students have to take out additional loans in order to study for the bar, which compounds student debt issues. This new pathway would alleviate some of the financial strain graduates face. 

“From the practitioner/supervisor’s point of view, they get an associate work, can do legal work months earlier than they would have and can really train the associate in the practical aspects of the practice of law,” Perini-Abbott said. 

Other states, such as California, Utah and Washington, are also considering similar experience-based options as alternatives to the traditional bar exam. 

“The stakeholders involved in drafting this new pathway put consumer protection at the forefront. This pathway is rigorous in how it assesses attorney competence and should give the public greater comfort that attorneys licensed this way are truly competent to practice law,”  Perini-Abbott said.

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