Board meetings are often an uneasy admixture of long-range thinking and day-to-day plodding. And if that balance gets out of kilter, meetings can be an exercise in frustration.

Rebecca White Berch, Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court

On Friday, the State Bar Board of Governors was aided in its continual effort to focus on the horizon by none other than the Arizona Chief Justice, Rebecca White Berch. She used her time wisely, speaking on a few topics of interest to Arizona attorneys.

She described developments in Admission on Motion in Arizona, and said that it has developed national momentum. She told those assembled that “Borders are breaking down.” (The Board of Governors has not endorsed AOM in the past, and Arizona Attorney Magazine has covered the topic.)

She also talked about the all-day course and other steps required of those who want to be admitted to Arizona practice without sitting for the bar exam. The Supreme Court has priced AOM at a heady $1,800. She smiled as she added, “No one is entitled to admission on motion; they can always take the bar.”

So far, she said, the Court has taken in $594,000 in the AOM initiative. But that doesn’t mean all of those applicants are now admitted: They have to pay up front, and the fee is nonrefundable, so many who have paid are still in the pipeline. (Maybe we should turn the Court loose on the state’s budget woes.)

She also talked about the course that’s been developed for those applicants. She said that its focus on Arizona-unique law was so good, perhaps the State Bar should offer it to all members as a CLE. She sold it so well, I think I may sit in the next time it’s offered.

Then Chief Justice Berch turned to the possibility of a Uniform Bar Exam replacing the Arizona Bar Exam. The nationwide effort is being made by the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). She spoke at length about why such a change makes sense, and preemptively rebutted possible objections to it.

Chief Justice Berch at the State Bar Board of Governors meeting, Sept. 24, 2010

The Chief gave some tepid credit to the Arizona Bar Exam as she said, “There is nothing wrong with the Arizona Bar; it’s fine, basically. But we don’t have the resources to put to it that the NCBE can.”

If Arizona were to move toward adoption of the UBE, would we do it immediately?

Probably not, said Justice Berch.

“I would like us to be firmly at the front of the second wave” of adopting states, she said. That approach would be similar to Arizona’s cautious acceptance of admission on motion.

Justice Berch did not guarantee that she planned for Arizona to become a Uniform Bar Exam state. But she is on the “NCBE Special Committee on the Uniform Bar Exam,” and she was pretty unstinting in its praise, so if I were you, I would short the Arizona Bar Exam on your legal investment portfolio.

This morning, I heard one interesting wrinkle in the UBE discussion. The Arizona Native American Bar Association had its annual banquet on Saturday, and the UBE was discussed by some attendees. NABA has been striving to get an Indian Law question on the Arizona Bar Exam for the past few years, even going so far as to support a rule-change petition submitted to the Arizona Supreme Court. (We covered the topic in May 2009; the Court has stayed consideration of the petition.)

But as adoption of the UBE becomes more likely, the likelihood of such a question on the exam decreases. Therefore, NABA’s focus may turn toward getting Indian Law issues included in the one-day Arizona law course required of AOM applicants. I’m sure we’ll hear more about that later.

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