Arizona sweetens the deal still further by offering the Uniform Bar Exam. The UBE is a recent move to recognize that our 50 states are part of a single nation; UBE takers can transfer scores from one participating state to another. So far only ten jurisdictions participate, but many of them are in the West.
Students at Arizona law schools are most likely to take advantage of this new opportunity, but the rule applies to any third-year student. In theory, an Ohio student could take the Arizona bar during February of her third year, gain admission to the Arizona bar in June, and seek employment in any one of the ten states that recognize UBE scores. (Some restrictions apply: States make their own character and fitness determinations, set their own passing scores, and may require additional state-related tests. Please check all local rules.)
One of the most intriguing aspects of this change involves its impact on the third year of law school. The Arizona rule specifies that a law student may not take more than two semester hours of classes "during the month of early bar examination testing and the immediately preceding month." In other words, during January and February the student should be studying for the bar--not taking other law school classes. The student must also be within 8 semester hours of graduation at the time of the February exam.
Law schools that want to support this option, therefore, will have to create a 3L schedule that accommodates 3Ls taking the February bar. What would that schedule look like? I'd like to see schools offer bar review courses to their students during that January and February; I'd probably amend the Arizona rule to award more than just 2 credits for that work. It's shameful that students have to pay extra for commercial bar review courses. Plus, there is pedagogical value to a third-year recap of the basic doctrinal courses.
That pedagogical value, by the way, would not apply just to the students taking the review courses. The faculty at each institution would have to work together on the review, pushing them to see the core curriculum as a whole. We might discover who actually covers some of those necessary topics. "Presumptions? I thought you did that in Evidence. No, I assumed you handled it in Criminal Law. Maybe it comes up in Constitutional Law or Torts?"
Schools will also have to create "short courses" to fit the two months between the February bar and graduation. That provides a wonderful opportunity for capstone problem-solving courses, externships, or short clinical rotations.
The early-bar approach puts a few kinks in the third-year schedule that need to be worked out. It's hard, for example, to create a good clinical experience that spans just two months. But if students had a full clinical experience during the fall of the third year, then a review of bar subjects in January and February, I think we could come up with some rewarding experiences during those last two months.
This is a small step, and one that Arizona has endorsed only on a three-year trial basis. But it's the type of experimentation we need and I'm guessing the idea will stick. Imagine: we'd be shortening legal education from seven semesters (3 years in law school and an intense summer of bar study) to just six.