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2/8/2013 12:46:00 PM
Murphy: No law degree? No problem
State Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)
State Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- A veteran legislator wants to allow individuals to practice law in Arizona with less classroom training than now required to cut hair.

The proposal by Sen. Rick Murphy, R-Glendale, would eliminate the existing requirement for a degree from an accredited law school as a precursor. Instead, SCR 1018 says anyone who could pass the Bar exam -- the same one law school graduates have to take -- would get the same privilege to take on clients, prepare legal briefs and even argue civil and criminal cases in court.

Murphy said too much is being made of the idea of a law degree.

"There are lots of folks who go to law school and then have no idea how to successfully practice law,' he said.

"I hired some of those people,' said Murphy, who has been a real estate agent and business consultant. "So I ought to know.'

And Murphy noted the state requires someone to pass the test, even after graduating from law school.

"Either the test is a meaningful measure of your aptitude to practice law, or it's not,' he said.

Murphy acknowledged that lawmakers have mandated 1,300 hours of classroom training to cut hair and 1,600 hours to get a cosmetology license. But he said the comparison is invalid.

"You're not going to damage anybody's health by having an unsanitary law practice,' he said, "although there's lots of times when you deal with a lawyer that you end up getting your hair cut pretty bad.'

But Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, who is not a lawyer, said what Murphy is proposing sets a bad precedent.

"Eventually, maybe someone may decide med school is unnecessary,' she said, with anyone who passes a standardized test free to start doing surgery.

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, who is a lawyer, questioned the merits of what Murphy wants to do.

"I'm happy to look at that bill,' said Farnsworth, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee. That is where Murphy's bill would go, assuming he can get Senate approval. "But at this point I think you probably ought to go to law school.'

Farnsworth said there is an argument to be made that it should not matter how someone gains his or her knowledge of the law, whether it's going to law school, doing a lot of personal study or even working with an attorney. But he said that knowledge, however gained, is only part of what's needed.

"Law school teaches you to think like an attorney,' he said. Farnsworth said that means knowing not just what the law says but how to apply it to the best interests of your clients.

Rep. Justin Pierce, R-Mesa, another attorney, said the legislation puts too much reliance on passing a single test as an indication of ability to practice.

"I think that, given enough time, just about anybody who can study can figure out a way to pass the Bar exam,' he said, noting that half of it involves multiple-choice questions.

"There is, frankly, a certain amount of luck that goes into that as well,' Pierce continued. "I know I got lucky.'

But Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, who did go to law school, said Murphy may be on to something.

"I saw a lot of people that went to law school that never could pass the Bar exam,' he said. And Biggs said it's not like graduating from law school and passing the test -- he actually passed exams in New Mexico, Washington and Arizona -- means someone is ready to take on clients.

"When I first got out there, my boss said, 'Hey, I want you to look at this contract,' ' Biggs recalled, something he was ill prepared to do.

(Optional box instead?)

It was well into the 20th century that Arizonans could become lawyers solely by passing the Bar exam. One of the last people to enter the profession that way was Wes Polley who was Cochise County attorney in the 1950s and still practicing into the 1980s.

In a 1984 interview, Polley, now deceased, told Capitol Media Services he did not think he missed much by not being able to attend the University of Arizona.

"I was married when I was 16,' he said. "There was no way I could make a living and become a full-time student.'

Instead, Polley worked part time as a guard at the state prison in Florence, studying when he could at the Pinal County Law Library. He also worked with friends who were law school grads "who told me generally what they thought was necessary and what they felt was fluff. So I just concentrated on the things that were necessary.'

Polley said he came close to passing the bar exam on his first try. It took a second attempt, in 1936, to allow him to hang out his shingle.

(End optional box)

John Phelps, executive director of the State Bar of Arizona, said Murphy's proposal ignores that not everything a lawyer needs to know can be taught in a book -- and measured in a written exam.

"Those things include trial advocacy, negotiations, writing much more significantly than what you can write in a bar exam,' he said.

"I'm not saying that a person with the right kind of maybe natural-born skills or skills that are required elsewhere or skills that are acquired by being an apprentice to a lawyer might not be successful without having to go through law school,' Phelps said. But he said there needs to be a system that can handle everyone who wants to practice.

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Reader Comments

Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2013
Article comment by: Matthew Holmes

What law? Our laws from top to bottom have become nothing more than a mere inconvenience to the wealthy and those in power. An inconvenience that happily ignore while trampling all over the rights of us, the people. Criminal law has become a multi-billion dollar industry waging a war on the lower classes, filling our prisons and their pockets, while the rich and powerful ignore our laws with impunity.

I've been studying law for almost 20 years now, thinking in the past that I would become a lawyer and try to protect people's rights and hold those in power accountable. The day when such a scenario would be plausible has long since vanished into the graveyard along with our Constitution and Bill of Rights. We have lived in police state ruled by the two-party tyranny for quite some time now, they are just coming out of the closet about it now, so to speak, behaving more brazenly and openly than would have been acceptable before. We live in a state of anomie, where law has just become a mere formality - words to say and motions to sustain - but the results remain the same: we get screwed.

Posted: Saturday, February 9, 2013
Article comment by: Dennis Lockhart

We have entirely too many hungry ambulance chasers practicing law already. Look at the "politically correct" condition our country already is in.

Posted: Friday, February 8, 2013
Article comment by: Roger Korn

Senator Murphy seems to feel that we need MORE lawyers. A questionable assumption.

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