DES MOINES — Gov. Terry Branstad and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee think Iowa law school graduates should take the Iowa Bar Exam in order to practice law in the state, despite an Iowa Bar Association committee report to do just the opposite.
Lawmakers won’t have an official say in the matter, which is a recommendation from the Iowa Bar Association to the Iowa Supreme Court, but the governor — who passed the bar in 1973 — was adamant.
“As someone who took the bar, I think they ought to take the bar,” Branstad said Monday.
Branstad, who was president of Des Moines University Medical School between stints as governor, added that medical students have to pass three levels of board examination before they can practice medicine in addition to their residency programs.
“I think this is part of making sure people are qualified and competent to do the job,” he said. “I was kind of surprised to hear that they were thinking about it.”
A bar committee made the recommendation in December. Only Wisconsin currently lets its law school graduates practice without first taking the bar exam.
In its recommendation, the committee argued allowing the graduates from the University of Iowa Law School and Drake University Law School to skip the bar if they practiced in Iowa would allow them to save money.
“The proposed rule promises benefits to Iowa's rural and traditionally underrepresented communities, by lowering student-debt barriers to new lawyers serving these communities,” committee members also argued in their recommendation. “The rule would aid Iowa's bar and bench by making practice in Iowa more competitive for the graduates of our Iowa law schools and by assisting our bar and bench in becoming more diverse.”
Prospective attorneys would still have to pass moral and ethical fitness reviews.
“I think as you’re going through law school and studying for classes, you know that the bar exam is out there,” said Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, an attorney and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. "I think that you work harder in law school to learn the material if you know that at the end, there’s one test that is going to make or break your career."
He was unmoved by the argument that only about 6 percent of Iowa law school graduates don’t pass the bar on their first attempt.
“If you have 5 or 6 percent that don’t pass every year, take the cumulative effect of that year after year after year and how many lawyers are out there that really aren’t competent to practice,” he said.
His counterpart in the Iowa Senate is attorney and Judiciary Chairman Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, who was less skeptical of the idea.
“I’m more open to it,” he said. “I think looking for innovation in how to get people licensed as attorneys is not a terrible idea. The question is, is it an effective safeguard? The people who regulate that will have a better idea, and that’s the Iowa Supreme Court.”