One of Connecticut's tribal courts is seeking to significantly increase the number of lawyers who practice before it by getting rid of a mandatory bar exam.
The Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court has required a written exam for nearly 20 years. The idea behind the test, Chief Judge Thomas Londregan said, was to make sure lawyers knew the differences between the law in state court and tribal court.
But the exam was having an unintended consequence. To ensure that new lawyers were aware of the differences between state and tribal laws and court protocols, the test morphed from a short open-book test to a two-hour ordeal. As a result, fewer people were passing the test and fewer people were sitting for it.
"We have 33 titles of law spanning two full volumes, so it just started to became a daunting task to read and prepare for a written exam," Londegran said.
"There were a lot of lawyers who wanted to practice here but they did not want to spend the time to study for another bar exam," he said. "They did that once in their career and they didn't have the desire to do that again after 10 or 20 years of practicing law. And quite frankly, I don't blame them."
He expects to see more new lawyers now.
Ed Gasser, who is president of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Court Bar Association, and runs an insurance defense practice in Avon, said the high bar exam failure rate was causing the small tribal bar to stagnate. While the overall Connecticut Bar Exam pass rate last year for the much more involved, two-day test was 77 percent, the tribal bar exam passage rate was less than 50 percent.
"I'm not saying we don't have great lawyers practicing, we do," he said, referring to the tribal bar. "But having more lawyers in tribal court would be beneficial."
With the impediment of a written exam removed, he expects the number of attorneys who practice before the court to increase by 50 percent. Instead of 200 lawyers arguing cases in the court, there could soon be 300, Gasser said.
"I think that would be a good thing," he said. "I know a number of very good attorneys who have said they won't practice before the tribal court because the bar exam has become so difficult."