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Court Says Applicant, Who Didn't Go to College, May Take the Bar Exam

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on April 04, 2017 6:58 AM

It takes a lot to change bar exam requirements, which figures in a profession built on a pedagogical approach that dates back to Socrates.

Times are changing, however, with things like the Uniform Bar Exam gaining traction in many states. Even California, with its feared three-day exam, is going to a two-day format this year.

But rarely in the annals of bar exam history have examiners been schooled like the Oklahoma Board of Bar Examiners. The Oklahoma Supreme Court rejected the board's reading of an admission requirement like a disgusted law professor throwing a test back at a surly student.

"What kind of fried okra is this anyway?!" the court could have thundered.

Success After Skipping College

Of course, the high court didn't chasten the examiners quite like that. We get to spin things a little here, but you can fill in your own words when you read the opinion.

It started when Caleb Alexander Harlin contacted the Oklahoma board and inquired about practicing there. Harlin was a California attorney, having skipped college and having graduated from a non-ABA school in California.

The Oklahoma board said he had to graduate from an ABA school, so Harlin enrolled at Oklahoma City University School of Law. As he had done in Calfornia, Harlin excelled in his studies.

When he applied to take the Oklahoma bar exam, however, the board denied him because he didn't have an undergraduate degree. It was the first time the issue had come up.

Twice Denied

As an alternative, the board said Harlin could apply for the attorney exam. So he paid the $1,000 application, but the board denied him again for the same reason. 

Harlin appealed to the state Supreme Court, where he found reasonable minds differed. The court said, in a unanimous decision, that a plain reading of the admission rules did not require an undergraduate degree for an applicant to take the attorney exam.

Legal Profession Blog reported the story, not adding any words to or putting a spin on the court's decision. However, the reporters couldn't help but italicizing one phrase:

"Unlike Mr. Harlin's law student registration application, the Board processed the Exam Application by Attorney and accepted the fee," the report said.

Harlin, who is admitted in all the courts of California, four federal district courts and the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, could have skewed the Oklahoma bar pass rates upward. The state had its lowest bar pass rate in a decade in 2015, with a total of 68 people passing the exam.

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