Washington International Law Journal


Nicci Arete


Existing literature does not give adequate attention to if and how the bar exam impacts the legal profession’s goals. Bar exam proponents say that the test separates competent candidates from incompetent ones, protecting the public from falling victim to inadequate legal services. But what constitutes a competent attorney? What are the goals of the profession? As legal systems become more complex and their impact on people’s lives all- encompassing, the ideal of improving access to justice—equitable and fair justice—is increasingly the target for justice systems across the globe. Addressing access to justice cannot be done without acknowledging the disparate barriers based on race, ethnicities, sex, and class. This comment argues that any licensure system for legal professionals should prioritize the impact such a system has on access to justice for marginalized communities. This comment further argues that the bar exam as currently administered by the United States and in similar systems abroad does not measure any definition of competence the profession should uphold. The goal of this work is not to offer a well-developed plan for reform, but to place a spotlight on where the system is failing and what we can potentially learn from nations around the world. The paper then considers potential alternatives to license legal professionals and suggests various considerations to weigh in order to design an effective system.