The licensing process defines our profession. It identifies the knowledge and skills that lawyers need to serve clients competently--and then determines who has those competencies. For more than 50 years, most states have relied on a written exam to make those decisions. That exam requires extensive memorization of legal principles, but does not test skills like legal research, fact investigation, client counseling, or negotiation. Lawyers have started to ask, "Is this how we want to define our profession? Are we simple repositories of black letter legal rules? Or are we problem solvers and counselors?"
Licensing systems decide who to admit to the profession, but also who to exclude. Our current system disproportionately excludes candidates of color, candidates from low-income households, candidates with disabilities, and candidates with caretaking responsibilities. Is this how we want our system to operate?
This website collects research related to best practices for licensing lawyers. We will help you understand the problems in our current system, the competencies that new lawyers need, and best practices for assessing those competencies. In our solutions section, we explain new approaches that jurisdictions are considering or implementing. If you are interested in this material, we also highly recommend the book, Shaping the Bar (Stanford University Press 2023), by Joan W. Howarth. Professor Howarth provides an excellent overview of issues related to licensing.
The site currently focuses on the portion of our licensing system that determines a prospective lawyer's competence. Other parts of the system, such as determinations of character and fitness, are also critical. We will add research related to that component of licensing soon.