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Bar Examinations

Oregon Judicial Department (OJD) History


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Subject Guide

Bar Examinations



Since 1865, new applicants seeking admission to the practice of law had been required to pass an examination administered by the Supreme Court.1 Originally, the examination had to be conducted by the justices themselves. The exam covered:


"Pleading, evidence, contracts, real property and equity, and...each applicant must be prepared for examination in the following books, viz.: Chitty, on Pleadings, Wharton's Criminal Law, Greenleaf on Evidence, Blackstone's Commentaries, Kent's Commentaries, Story's Equity Jurisprudence, or Willard's Equity Jurisprudence."2


By 1885, the examination had become more general:


"Applicants for admission as attorneys shall be examined by the justices of the Supreme Court, or under their direction, and only such shall be admitted as shall appear duly learned in the common law, the law merchant, the principles of equity jurisprudence, the history and the constitutional law of England prior to the Declaration of Independence, the history and constitutional law of the United States, the statute and constitutional law of this State, and the practical administration of the law."3


The justices continued to continued to administer the bar exams into the early 20th Century, when the combination of a growing population and the press of other duties required a new system.4 The answer, first promulgated by Supreme Court rule in 1913, was the creation of a board of bar examiners.5 The examiners would examine the applicants

"as to their requisite general learning in the constitutional law, including the constitutions of the United States and the State of Oregon, equity, the law of real and personal property, evidence, decedents' estates, landlord and tenant, mortgages, contracts, partnership, corporations, crimes, torts, agency, sales, negotiable instruments, domestic relations, common law pleading and practice, state practice, conflict of law, professional ethics, the federal statutes relating to the judiciary and bankruptcy, and the development in theState of Oregon of the principles of the law, as exemplified by the decisions of its supreme court and by statutory enactments."6


Earlier, the Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar had sought legislation to establish the board of bar examiners, but it was not successful.7 The rule, however, seems to have met with some legislative approval. In 1917, the Legislature not only appropriated money for the board of bar examiners for 1917 and 1918, but it also appropriated money for expenses incurred in previous years -- 1914, 1915, and 1916.8 The Legislature would give express statutory approval for a board of bar examiners in 1935.9



FN1. Rule 27, Rules Adopted by the Supreme Court, 2 Or 14 (1862-69) (adopted September term, 1 1865). Applicants who had graduated from a law school and were entitled to practice law before the supreme court of another state were not required to undergo examination. Rule 31, Rules Adopted by the Supreme Court, 2 Or at 15.
FN2. Rule 27, Rules Adopted by the Supreme Court, 2 Or 14 (1862-69) (adopted September term, 1865).
FN3. Rule 2, Rules of the Supreme Court, 12 Or 533 (1884-85) (adopted November 4, 1885).
FN4. Fred Leeson, Rose City Justice: A Legal History of Portland, Oregon 89 (1998) (noting that "the Oregon Supreme Court was still admitting lawyers by individual testing"); Report of the Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, Proceedings of the Oregon Bar Association at its Twenty-Third Annual Meeting, Appendix A, at 25 (1913) ("The vast accumulation of work ... has made it practically impossible for the judges of our Supreme Court to longer perform the task of personally conducting the bar examinations ...")
FN5. "In the matter of the amendment of the rules relating to admission of attorneys," 21 Supreme Court Journal 75-77 (1913-15) (adopted December 22, 1913, effective nunc pro tunc December 16, 1913.)
FN6. Id., Rule 37.
FN7. Report of the Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar, Proceedings of the Oregon Bar Association at its Twenty-Third Annual Meeting, Appendix A, at 26 (1913).
FN8. Or Laws 1917, ch 308, § 1.
FN9. Or Laws 1935, ch 28, § 11 (authorizing "committee to examine applicants"). The current statute is ORS 9.210.

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