Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Task Force Not Approved To Study Minnesota Admissions

The Minnesota Supreme Court has denied a State Bar petition to create a Task Force to study bar admissions

On October 6, 2021, the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) filed a petition asking that we appoint a task force to study attorney licensing methods, the efficacy and fairness of the written examination, changes to the examination, and other approaches to attorney licensure. Petition for Task Force at 1, No. ADMl0-8008 (filed Oct. 6, 2021). As an alternative to a task force, the MSBA asks that we appoint representatives from a range of stakeholders to the committee of the Board that is responsible for the Board's study. Id. Recognizing that an extensive study is required and the importance of a broad range of views and ideas to a diverse, equitable, and inclusive legal profession, the MSBA urges us to ensure that an "independent, cross-functional" group that can draw on "a broad set of expertise and resources" undertakes this critically important work.  Id. at 26.

We have carefully considered the MSBA's petition. We agree with the MSBA that the Board's study is of the utmost importance and that a diversity of viewpoints, perspectives, and experiences must inform the Board's work. Determining the standards by which we fulfill our responsibility for ensuring the competency of those admitted to practice in Minnesota must account for diversity in the age, race, ethnicity, gender, geographic location, and practices of the applicants and the clients who rely on Minnesota lawyers for their legal needs. In addition, the Board's study should be informed by the work undertaken by other jurisdictions in recent years, as well as the different measures used by some jurisdictions to evaluate competency to be admitted to the practice of law.

The Board and the MSBA have identified the same groups and sectors from whom stakeholder input is needed. The Board has also established a public process that will allow for broad participation in this study. Thus, in response to the petition of the MSBA, we expect the Board to seek out and consider a broad and robust range of viewpoints, to study barriers to entry to Minnesota's legal profession, and to thoughtfully evaluate alternatives to licensure in Minnesota. Our analysis of the Board's study will include consideration of the input provided to the Board, the responsiveness of the Board to that input and public concern, the steps taken to ensure broad and easy access to and participation in Board deliberations, and the transparency of the process.

Given these elements and the fact that the Board's work and study is underway, it is unnecessary for our court to appoint a separate task force to study this critically important issue. We also believe the more efficient strategy is to allow the Board to complete its work with its current members; thus, we do not see a need to expand the size of the Board to complete the study. We therefore decline to grant the MSBA's petition.

But to be clear: Nothing we have said here, nor our decision to deny the petition of the MSBA, should discourage the MSBA or other interested bar associations and legal practice organizations from separately evaluating Minnesota's methods for licensure or alternative pathways to licensure. Nor should anything we say here limit the scope of the Board's study or that of any other interested organization. We expect and encourage the deepest and broadest look at these issues, whether that work is done by the Board or by another interested organization.

(Mike Frisch)

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