No person may practice law in Wisconsin, or attempt to do so, or declare that they are authorized to do so, unless the person is currently authorized to practice law in Wisconsin by the Wisconsin Supreme Court and is an active member of the Wisconsin State Bar Association. Of course, not all attorneys practicing in Wisconsin were admitted with the privilege of earning a diploma. Those who studied at law schools in other states must pass the exam in order to practice there. Wisconsin was halfway there, with 7.4 annual complaints per 100 lawyers, suggesting that lawyers admitted through the privilege of obtaining a diploma are no more likely to be the subject of complaints for poor professional performance than those who have passed a bar exam.
As my colleague Karen Sloan has reported, the nonprofit corporation is redesigning the exam to place more emphasis on legal skills and less on memorizing doctrinal law. He found that Arizona attorneys had the highest number of dissatisfied clients, with 17.8 annual complaints per 100 attorneys. The National Conference of Bar Examiners, which develops the exam at the national level, responded to the report by saying that the purpose of the exam is to protect the public by consistently assessing whether examinees know the basic concepts to be able to practice law. Ambitious lawyers (or those who get tired of winters that last seven months) face an obstacle if they want to move out of state.
Published in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics last month, the document compares complaints against lawyers in Wisconsin with those in the country as a whole.