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Part I examines core assumptions associated with licensing systems as well as associated ambiguities. In particular, it acknowledges multiple understandings about what “competence” is and differing assumptions about how to evaluate or measure it. Part I thus sets forth important predicates for our argument that only a multi-faceted licensing system can do what is needed in assuring minimal competence, and that not all forms of competence are best measured by traditional licensing examinations.

Part II raises the possibility of creating a post-first-year examination designed to assess critical thinking in the context of the first-year curriculum. It also considers ways in which an early performance test focused on legal writing and research skills could prove beneficial in preparing students for legal practice and for more in-depth evaluation of practice skills at the end of the JD degree. Such a test could be a voluntary educational assessment or a licensing requirement.

Part III considers the benefits of requiring the equivalent of a semester’s “residency” experience that includes a clinic or externship in which students would gain substantial experience representing actual clients. This Part explores the rationale for such a requirement and canvasses the increasing interest among state supreme courts in imposing such a requirement, far beyond what American Bar Association accreditors currently mandate.

Part IV addresses the possibility of a limited licensing option for students who have completed two years of law school with targeted instruction and residency experience. A limited license to practice in areas of high need could help to address access to justice concerns. This Part argues that a limited licensure option for students who have completed a wellstructured, two-year program of law school education should allay concerns among lawyers whose doubts about preparation of paraprofessionals have caused resistance to strategies to use limited licenses to address significant access to justice concerns.

Part V explores how a newly reshaped bar examination and licensure system might work at the end of the third year of law school. It identifies new approaches to coverage, new assessment frameworks, and other factors that might make a post-JD bar licensing framework more likely to address concerns about minimal competence. These ideas are timely, especially in an era in which the Uniform Bar Examination has moved away from assessing candidates’ understanding of and experience with jurisdiction-specific law.

Publication Citation

Joan W. Howarth & Judith Wegner, Ringing Changes: Systems Thinking About Legal Licensing, 13 FIU L. Rev. 383 (2019).