January 29, 2008
TAKING THE STATE BAR EXAM: STANDARDS, ADMINISTRATION, APPEAL
By: Meghan Reilly, Legislative Fellow
You asked about the standards for determining whether someone can take the state bar exam, who applies those standards, and what recourse an applicant has if denied, specifically in regards to a foreign attorney seeking admission to the bar.
The purpose of the bar exam is to gain entry to the state bar to practice law as an attorney. There are three avenues to admission to the Connecticut bar. The first is for graduates of American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited or Connecticut Bar Examining Committee (CBEC)-approved law schools to take the bar exam. The second route allows lawyers practicing in other jurisdictions to take the exam. These lawyers must demonstrate a history of practice in a court in another state, the District of Columbia, a federal district, or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Lastly, an attorney of the aforementioned jurisdictions may bypass the exam upon meeting qualifications of CBEC.
To be eligible to take the bar exam, applicants generally must meet education, age, and citizenship requirements and pay the application fee.
CBEC, which consists of 24 members appointed by Superior Court judges, has the authority to implement the rules of admission to the bar. There is no appeals process for candidates not meeting the requirements to take the exam, according to R. David Stamm, CBEC's administrative director.
ELIGIBILITY TO TAKE THE BAR EXAM
Graduates of ABA-accredited or CBEC-approved law schools who are not licensed to practice in another jurisdiction may apply to the CBEC for permission to take the Connecticut bar exam (1 Conn. Prac., Super. Ct. Civ. Rules § 2-8) (2008 ed)). Applicants must:
1. be U.S. citizens or an aliens lawfully residing in the United States;
2. be at least age 18;
3. be of good moral character and have either passed an examination in professional responsibility administered under the auspices of CBEC or completed a course in professional responsibility in accordance with CBEC;
4. meet the educational requirements of CBEC; and
5. file an application and pay application fees.
The educational requirements (id. at § 2-8(4)) limit admission to graduates of law schools approved by CBEC. Accepted law schools must be approved or provisionally approved by the ABA when the applicant receives his or her law degree. CBEC approves additional schools based on previous applications for inclusion, licensing within the state, curriculum, faculty appointments, and graduates' bar passage rates. CBEC does not accept applications seeking approval of schools from individual bar applicants, only from the institution (Regulations of the Connecticut Bar Examining Committee Edition of 2008 Art. II-1, http://www.jud.ct.gov/CBEC/regs.htm#II).
Alternative for Practicing Attorneys
There is an alternative for lawyers who do not meet the committee's educational requirements. In such cases, the applicant must be admitted to practice before the highest court of original jurisdiction in another state, the District of Columbia or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico or in one or more U.S. district courts for at least 10 years and be a member in good standing of that bar. He or she must have practiced law in such a jurisdiction for not less than five years during the seven-year period immediately preceding the filing of the application. Additionally, the applicant must intend to actively practice law in Connecticut and to devote the major portion of the applicant's working time to practice in Connecticut (1 Conn. Prac., Super. Ct. Civ Rules § 2-8(8) (2008 ed.)).
Until January 1, 2008, an attorney possessing a law degree from a foreign institution could receive a Masters of Law (LLM) to meet the educational requirement. CBEC decided that an LLM does not assist in determining the qualifications of those who wish to take the bar exam from foreign countries or non-approved law schools. LLM programs generally provide specialization in detailed legal topics, not addressing the broad range of legal knowledge necessary to demonstrate basic legal competence. Such programs are also not accredited by the ABA. As a result, Connecticut and many other United States jurisdictions no longer use LLMs as a measure of the ability of foreign credentialed applicants to take their exams (1 Conn. Prac., Super. Ct. Civ Rules § 2-8 (2008 ed.), Official Commentary).
WHO APPLIES STANDARDS
The Superior Court establishes rules relative to the admission, qualifications, practice, and removal of attorneys (CGS § 51-80). “In Connecticut, from the earliest times, to prevent admission of unqualified persons into the practice of the profession, the courts have employed the members of the bar for the purpose of ascertaining the character and qualifications of those applying for membership” (Rosenthal v. State Bar Examining Committee, 116 Conn. 409, 1933).
The CBEC consists of 24 members appointed by the judges of the superior court. At least one member must be a superior court judge and the rest attorneys residing in Connecticut. The term of office of each member is three years, arranged so that the terms of eight members expire annually. The appointment of any member may be revoked or suspended by the judges or by the executive committee of the superior court (1 Conn. Prac., Super. Ct. Civ Rules § 2-3 (2008 ed.)).
ADMISSION WITHOUT EXAMINATION
To gain admission to the bar without taking the exam, an applicant must:
1. show that his or her educational qualifications would entitle him or her to take the examination in Connecticut and that the jurisdiction in which he or she is a member of the bar is reciprocal to Connecticut;
2. be of good moral character and have undertaken an examination or course in professional responsibility;
3. be a U.S. citizen or an alien lawfully residing in the United States;
4. intend, upon a continuing basis, to practice law actively in Connecticut and to devote the major portion of his or her working time to the practice of law in Connecticut; and
5. be licensed to practice law before the highest court of a reciprocal U.S. state or territory or the District of Columbia, and be lawfully engaged and in good standing in the practice of law as principal means of livelihood in that jurisdiction for at least five of the seven years preceding. (id. at § 2-13).
If the applicant failed to pass the CT bar, he or she must lawfully engage in the practice of law as a principal means of livelihood for at least five of the seven years preceding application and be in good standing. For these applicants, the five years of practice must have occurred subsequent to the applicant's last failed Connecticut examination.