Lawmaker seeking to allow more lawyers

2013-01-27T00:00:00Z Lawmaker seeking to allow more lawyersHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
January 27, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - A state legislator wants to allow even more people to practice law.

The proposal by Rep. John Allen, a Scottsdale Republican, would permit anyone who graduated from an online college of law to take the State Bar examination. Passing that test is the gateway to hanging out a shingle as an attorney.

The proposal would essentially override state Supreme Court rules that require potential Arizona attorneys to have graduated from a law school approved by the American Bar Association. That association does not accredit schools that provide all their coursework online.

Allen said he's not trying to pick a fight with the high court. And he joshed that he's not arguing that Arizona needs more lawyers. Instead, he said he's simply recognizing the online trends in education.

He pointed out it already is possible to graduate from both high school and college "and never see a building." The next logical step is to address professional trades, he said.

The big hurdle - aside from getting the measure approved by his colleagues - is the Supreme Court itself. The Arizona Constitution gives the high court the sole power to make rules of procedure for all the courts in the state, said Jennifer Liewer, spokeswoman for the justices. Those rules also spell out the process for admitting attorneys to the practice of law.

Allen is undeterred.

He noted that graduates of online law schools are allowed to take the Bar exam and practice law in California. All they have to show is 864 hours of preparation and study per year for four years. "It works for them," Allen said. "I think it can work for us."

But California's process stems from rules approved by that state's Supreme Court, not from state legislation. So there really is no legal precedent for what Allen is trying to do.

The one bit of legal precedent Allen may have dates back close to 30 years. At one point the State Bar of Arizona was a state agency, created by and living with rules enacted by the Legislature. But a dust-up over whether the Bar had to surrender to a state audit led legislators to decide to "sunset" the organization out of existence.

The Bar, however, did not go away. The high court justices made it part of the judicial branch of government, which they constitutionally control, with a requirement that anyone practicing law in Arizona belong to the Bar.

Allen said the fact the Legislature created the Bar in law at one time means it can do so again.

He said this isn't an issue of personal concern: He's not the graduate of any online law school hoping to practice law in Arizona.

And he said he's not singling out the legal profession. He would eventually like to see if existing rules and laws can be altered to allow graduates of other online programs to take the entry-level tests necessary for other professions.

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