Delaware will begin offering the bar exam for lawyers twice a year and will drop the passing score by two points as well as reduce the number of essays, length of clerkships and number of proceedings a candidate must attend before testing.
The changes were adopted after a two-year study by the Delaware Board of Examiners and recommendations for reform in the Judicial Branch’s Strategic Plan to improve diversity in the Delaware Bar.
It would be a mistake to assume the changes were only to improve diversity, said Sean O’Sullivan, chief of communication for the courts.
“The goal of these changes to the bar exam is also to make Delaware more attractive to all lawyers, including Delaware residents,” O’Sullivan said.
Only 25% of the people who attend Widener University’s Delaware Law School choose to site for the Delaware Bar exam, he said.
Delaware’s exam is known nationwide to be a tough test.
Chief Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr. said the Delaware Bar is not lowering standards, but modernizing the process.
Adding another exam each year and dropping the passing grade from 145 to 143 keeps the state competitive and helps attract top legal talent, he said.
“Delaware is the only state to hold the bar exam just once a year,” Seitz said in a press release. “This can frustrate applicants because if they fail to pass the exam, which may be required for them to keep or land a job in Delaware, they have to wait a full year before they can try again.”
The bar exam is not supposed to be a barrier, but a test of an applicant’s ability to successfully practice, he said.
Bar exam changes welcome
Phillip J. Closius, dean of the new Wilmington University Law School, said the changes were needed and welcome.
“It’s a great effort to open up the Delaware bar and to cut down barriers that were causing people to not want to be lawyers here,” Closius said. “We pretty well embrace all of it.”
There just aren’t enough lawyers in Delaware, he said.
New Castle County has many lawyers, but most focus on the problems of multinational corporations because Delaware is the state in which thousands are registered, partly because of its unique Chancery Court, which handles business matters.
Those lawyers deal with bankruptcies, stockholder disputes and intellectual corporate property, he said.
RELATED STORY: Meet the dean, instructors of Wilm U’s new law school
Delaware needs more lawyers, especially outside of New Castle County, to handle everyday matters such as wills, divorces and landlord-tenant issues, Closius said.
Dropping the passing score to 143 is no big deal, he said.
“The new number is still a high score, if you look at all 50 states,” he said.
The changes announced Tuesday include:
• Offering the bar exam in February as well as July, starting in 2024.
• The essay portion of the exam being reduced from eight essays to four and the number of topics that could be tested in those essays reduced from 14 areas of the law to 10, effective this year.
• Clerkship requirements reduced from 21 weeks to 12 weeks, effective this year.
• The number of proceedings that potential lawyers are required to sit through dropping from a mandatory 25 to a choice of 18 out of 30, effective this year.
• A reduction in the late application fee from $1,400 for law school graduates to $900, and from $1,600 for attorneys admitted in another jurisdiction to $1,000, effective this year.
See the Supreme Court order making the changes here.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
Share this Post