Do we really need 50 separate State bar exams in an era of global markets? We have always thought that bar exams and other forms of occupational licensing should be declared illegal restraints of trade under U.S. antitrust laws. After all, you don’t need a license to sing opera or play baseball (or teach law!), and yet somehow, the lack of occupational licensing in these fields has not diminished the quality of operas or baseball games at the professional level. In addition, one of the worst aspects of occupational licensing is that they are “location specific”: a barber’s license or taxi permit in one city is not valid in any another. Likewise, a law license issued by one State bar is not valid in any other State. But this anti-competitive lack of license-portability in the field of law may soon begin to change, now that New York State will officially replace its traditional (i.e. State-specific) bar exam with a standardized bar exam called the Uniform Bar Exam, according to this report in the N.Y. Times. Traditionally, law school graduates are authorized to practice law only in the State in which they have passed the bar exam. The Uniform Bar Exam, by contrast, is “portable,” meaning that law school graduates that pass this exam will be able to practice law in any of the States which have adopted it. (With New York, sixteen States have now adopted a standardized national bar exam. The nation’s three most populous states–California, Texas, and Florida–however, still run State-specific bar exams.) Will New York State’s move produce a Schellingesque “tipping point” leading to a national bar exam?
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