This Chapter will describe, first, the basic requirements to earn a Doctor of Laws (J.D.) degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School. Then it will address the requirements for Diploma Privilege in Wisconsin (the privilege to practice law in Wisconsin without taking the Wisconsin Bar Examination) (see 4.6 below). Finally, it will briefly discuss some procedures a UW Law graduate needs to know when applying for bar admission in a state other than Wisconsin (see 4.12 below). Contact the Law School Registrar at Registrar@law.wisc.edu with any questions or concerns regarding the Diploma Privilege and Graduation course requirements.
Although the vast majority of students who earn J.D. degrees from the Law School also meet the requirements for the Wisconsin Diploma Privilege, it is important to note that the actual J.D. degree requirements are not identical to the Diploma Privilege requirements. Indeed, it is possible to receive a J.D. degree and not meet the Diploma Privilege requirements. In reading the following information about J.D. degree requirements, do not make the mistake of thinking these are the Diploma Privilege requirements (which are themselves discussed at 4.6 below). Note: the JD & Diploma Privilege Worksheets at the end of this chapter will assist you in keeping track of both your J.D. degree and Diploma Privilege requirements.
To graduate with a J.D. degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School, four sets of requirements must be met. You must:
- Meet the residency & course of study requirements. See 4.3 below.
- Meet the credit/hour & subject requirements. See 4.4 below.
- Achieve and maintain a requisite grade-point average. See 4.5 below.
- Complete the work within 6 years of matriculation. Extensions of time, in exceptional cases, can be granted by the Retentions Committee; military service typically does not count against this time period. For more information on this time constraint, see Law School Rule 7.06.
You are not allowed to go to law school "too fast." Accreditation rules, intended to assure that the quality of law school training not be impaired by students carrying overloads and unduly accelerating their graduations, require law schools to, in effect, set speed limits on the pace of law study. The Law School is required to apply American Bar Association guidelines regarding residency, including the requirement that every student complete “a course of study in residence of not fewer than 58,000 minutes of instruction time.” ABA requirements for a Program of Legal Education are found on the web at http://www.abanet.org/legaled/standards/standards.html (Chapter 3 of the Standards for Approval for Law Schools); the residency and course of study requirements are addressed in Standard 304. The ABA's 58,000-minute requirement is more than adequately met by the 90 credits required for the UW JD degree, but there is also a '45,000-minute' requirement, discussed below.
there limits on the number of hours a student may be employed while enrolled in
law school. [Employment
limitations were rescinded by ABA action (August 2014).]
(Preliminary note: those Law School Rules which specifically address ABA residency requirements and ABA course of study requirements are currently out-of-date with respect to same. Since those particular Law School Rules were last revised, the ABA has altered significantly the applicable rules.) What are residence and course of study requirements, and why is the ABA concerned about them? The ABA requirements are set in order to prevent law students from securing a J.D. degree in an injudiciously short period of time. That is, the ABA doesn’t want students to rush through law schools “too fast” and thus requires them to attend for minimum periods of instruction in order to graduate. The requirements are written so that, even if one takes abnormally heavy credit loads (and the ABA has recently limited the possibility of even doing so), one cannot significantly shorten the time one spends “in residence” at the Law School.
Time Limitations: Maximum allowable time: to be eligible for the JD degree, the Law School requires students to complete all degree requirements within six years from the commencement of law studies, absent permission from the Retentions Committee. (Law School Rule 7.06). Minimum allowable time: Students may complete their degree requirements “no earlier than 24 months” after commencing law studies (ABA Standard 304(c)). This typically means, for example, were a student to start at the Law School in September 2014, the earliest the student could normally expect to complete all degree requirements and graduate is December 2016–that is, after five regular semesters of full-time study. Note, however, that in this instance some summer session work would almost certainly be necessary: because the First-year Program is currently limited to 32 credits, and in each subsequent term one is limited to a maximum of 18 credits (see below), one would still need 5 credits of summer session work to reach the 90 credits required. Additional Note: It may be technically possible for a full-time student starting in September to complete degree requirements by August two years later (i.e., precisely 24 months later--and no earlier); this would entail taking, after the first year, approximately 18 credits in each of the 2L semesters, plus approximately 22 summer credits over two summers. Be advised, however, that: (1) sufficient variation in summer course offerings in subsequent summers is not guaranteed; and (2) completing J. D. degree work in 24 months is difficult and not necessarily advisable for most students.
Credit Limitations: Students are not permitted to be enrolled in more than 18 credits per term. (See ABA Standard 304(e), which forbids enrollment, at any time, in more than 20 percent of the total coursework required for graduation. As the Law School requires 90 credits for the JD degree, the applicable enrollment restriction is 18 credits.) Credits associated with enrichment classes or other classes upon which JD degree credit will not be based do not count toward the 18 credit limitation.
Credits 'in residence': Law School Rule 9.01(1)(c) mandates that a "minimum of 50 credits must be earned as a J.D. candidate in this Law School for a student to be entitled to receive a J.D. from Wisconsin." Thus, a student who transfers to UW Law from a different law school, and who possesses a fairly large number of potentially transferable credits from the original school, must complete at least 50 credits as a UW Law student. This might mean that such a student will need more than the typical 90 credits total (see 4.4.1 below) to earn the Wisconsin JD.
Sufficient Credits in Courses with Regular Class Sessions (the 64-credit rule): Per ABA requirement, graduation is conditioned on at least 45,000 minutes of instruction time being completed "by attendance in regularly scheduled class sessions at the law school." (ABA Standard 304(b)). Because the ABA suggests 700 minutes of instruction time as an equivalent of one credit, this means that approximately 64 credits of the 90 credits required for degree should be completed in courses with regularly scheduled class sessions. This will be important to keep in mind if, for instance, a student wishes to take multiple clinical courses, perhaps in addition to other curricular activities (e.g., law journals, Moot Court) that do not necessarily involve attendance at regularly scheduled class sessions or if a student will transfer non-law credits as part of a dual degree program. If you have questions or concerns about this requirement, please contact Amy Arntsen, Law School Registrar, at email@example.com.
ABA Standard 304(f) for the Approval of Law Schools, to which the Law School is
subject, states: A student may not be employed for more than 20 hours per week
in any week in which the student is enrolled in more than 12 class hours. [Employment
limitations were rescinded by ABA action (August 2014).]
4.4 J.D. Degree: Credit/Hour & Subject Requirements
To graduate, law students must satisfactorily complete 90 credits (or “hours”) of courses, all of which must qualify for credit from the University of Wisconsin Law School, whether the courses are taken at the Law School or elsewhere. This is sometimes referred to as the 90-Credit Rule. (To “satisfactorily complete” refers to required grades, discussed at 4.5 below.)
Important Note: Any student who completes 90 or more credits and has fulfilled all other J.D. degree course requirements (i.e., the First-Year Program, the Legal Process Requirement, and the Professional Responsibilities Requirement), will be graduated – regardless of whether the student has yet to complete any requirements necessary for Diploma Privilege.
Additional Note: All 60-Credit Rule courses (discussed in 4.6.2 below) count toward the 90 credits needed for degree. (But not all '90-Credit Rule' courses satisfy the Diploma Privilege-related 60-Credit Rule.)
Please note that the JD & Diploma Privilege Worksheets located at the end of this chapter are useful for keeping track of both your J.D. degree and Diploma Privilege requirements.
Within the 90 “hours” (or credits), students must complete the following Graduation Requirement courses:
(1) The First-Year Program: Contracts I, Torts I, Civil Procedure I, Introduction to Substantive Criminal Law, Legal Research & Writing I & II (a grade of C- or better must be earned to receive credit in LR&W I & II; Law School Rule 3.11), Property, and two mandatory electives such as Civil Procedure II; Constitutional Law I; Introduction to Criminal Procedure; International Law; Administrative Law; Legislation and Regulation; and Business Organizations I. (Note that elective choices vary from year to year) (Law School Rule 3.01).
(2) The Professional Responsibilities Requirement: Professional Responsibilities, Legal Profession, or Ethical Issues in Criminal Justice. (Law School Rule 3.12)
(3) The Legal Process Requirement: Met by the Legal Process course as well as a host of other courses that evaluate a particular “legal system as a whole.” (Law School Rule 3.03) In addition to the Legal Process course itself, these recent courses that have satisfied the Legal Process Requirement:
- Administrative Law
- Advanced Indian Law
- Bioethics and the Law
- Chinese Law
- Comparative Family Law
- Comparative Law
- Constitution in the American Civil War
- Federal Law & Indian Tribes
- Housing & Community Economic Development
- International Business Transactions
- International Law
- International Trade Law
- Modern American Legal History
- Public Law and Private Power
- Selected Problems in American Legal History: 20th Century Constitution
- Sociology of Law
- Wisconsin State Constitutional Law
All courses meeting this requirement will be so designated on the online Course Schedule. In recent years, the requirement has also been met in these courses: Jurisprudence; Latin American Legal Institutions; Law & Economics; Law, Social Sciences & the Humanities; Law, Theology & the State; Lincoln & the Law; Patterns in American Jurisprudence; Reparations in Theory & Practice; Legislative History; Poverty Law; Women's Legal History.
(4) Upper-Level Writing Requirement: Per Law School Rule 3.11.1, J.D. candidates have an “Upper-level Writing Requirement” and are required to complete one rigorous writing experience subsequent to the completion of the First-Year Program. Curricular activities meeting this requirement will be designated by the Dean and are denoted in the Notes column of the Law School's online course schedule with “LW.” Students, however, are urged to check with the course instructor to ensure that they will indeed be able to fulfill the Upper-level Writing Requirement in the course. Certain curricular activities automatically meet the requirement. To individually satisfy the requirement, a student must complete a writing project that included each of the following: (1) at least 15 pages (double-spaced) of written work; (2) submission of a draft on which the instructor provided feedback on the writing (as opposed to the substantive content); and (3) the instructor's feedback was provided in time for the feedback to be incorporated into the final product. The Upper-Level Writing Requirement form must be submitted to the Law School Registrar by every student, indicating the manner in which the student meets this requirement.
(5) Skills Requirement: Per Law School Rule 3.07, students who decide not to pursue Diploma Privilege qualification and who additionally do not plan to take Evidence must contact Associate Dean Kelly (KevinKelly@wisc.edu) about ensuring they take some appropriate skills course in order to meet ABA requirements for the JD degree.
Please note that the JD & Diploma Privilege Worksheets located at the end of this chapter are useful for keeping track of both your J.D. degree and Diploma Privilege requirements.
Important Note for students who may wish to be admitted in New York: See Section 4.12.1 infra.
To graduate, a student must have completed courses totaling not fewer than 90 credits, including all the courses required for graduation, with a weighted final average of not less than 2.0 on the Law School’s 4.3 scale. (Law School Rule 9.01) Basically, the weighted final average is based on all the courses for which a student has received Law School letter grades (as opposed to letter grades earned in non-Law courses and for which the letter grades on the University’s 4.0 scale are reported; these non-4.3 scale letter grades do not factor into a Law student’s GPA).
Thus, the critical average to maintain is a weighted average of 2.0 or better (on the Law School’s 4.3 scale). Students frequently ask whether they must have a C (the equivalent to 2.0) in every class. The short answer is no. A second frequently asked question is whether students must retake any class in which they receive a grade below C. The short answer to this question is also no, except that Legal Research and Writing I and II must be retaken if a grade of D+ or lower is earned. But students must have a 2.0 or better overall--and complete 90 credits--(including all Graduation Requirements) in order to receive the J. D. degree.
Note: Since the Law School uses a separate grading scale from the rest of the University your official UW transcript and student record will not calculate or show your Law School GPA. Directions on how to calculate your Law School GPA are available in Section 9 of this Read This First! student handbook.
Years ago, many states had a "diploma privilege," a set of course and grade requirements which, if fulfilled, allowed one to be admitted to practice without taking a bar exam. Wisconsin is now alone in retaining this privilege, by rule of the Wisconsin Supreme Court: http://www.wicourts.gov/supreme/sc_rules.jsp (see Chapter 40). To qualify for the Wisconsin Diploma Privilege, one must satisfy two sets of requirements:
(1) One must meet certain academic requirements. See 4.6.1-4.6.5 below.
(2) One must meet requirements relating to character and fitness to practice law. See 4.7 below.
As stated above, the vast majority of students who earn J.D. degrees from the Law School also meet the requirements for Wisconsin Diploma Privilege. The JD & Diploma Privilege Worksheets located at the end of this chapter outline the academic requirements for diploma privilege and are useful for keeping track of both your J.D. degree and Diploma Privilege requirements. Contact Amy Arntsen, Law School Registrar (firstname.lastname@example.org), with questions about the academic requirements for diploma privilege.
In order to be certified for admission to the Wisconsin Bar under the Diploma Privilege, a graduate must satisfy three requirements:
The graduate must be awarded a J.D. degree from the Law School. See 4.2 above. (See also Supreme Court Rule (SCR) 40.03).
The graduate must have satisfactorily completed courses in the Mandatory Subject Matter areas. (SCR 40.03(2)(b)) (To “satisfactorily complete” refers to required grades, discussed below at 4.6.5.) The Mandatory Subject Matter Areas are: Constitutional Law (divided into separate Constitutional Law I and Constitutional Law II requirements); Contracts (satisfied by Contracts I); Criminal Law and Procedure (divided into separate Introduction to Substantive Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure requirements); Evidence; Jurisdiction of Courts (satisfied by Civil Procedure II, Federal Jurisdiction, or Conflicts of Laws); Ethics & Legal Responsibilities of the Legal Profession (satisfied by Professional Responsibilities or Legal Profession or Ethical Issues in Criminal Justice); Pleading & Practice (satisfied by Civil Procedure I); Real Property (satisfied by Property); Torts (satisfied by Torts I); and Wills & Estates (satisfied by Trusts & Estates I). (Note: the above rule is sometimes referred to as the 10-Subject/30-Credit Rule, although the required courses will add up to more than 30 credits and, with the Constitutional Law and Criminal Law & Procedure requirements each divided, there are in reality twelve separate mandatory subjects, not ten.)
The graduate must have satisfactorily completed not fewer than 60 credits in the Elective Subject Matter areas. (SCR 40.03(2)(a)) (To “satisfactorily complete” refers to required grades, discussed below at 4.6.5.) This is most often referred to as the 60-Credit Rule. All courses satisfying the 60-Credit Rule will be so designated on the Law School's online course schedule, which is available at www.law.wisc.edu/academics/courses/ For an updated list of 60-Credit Rule courses, go to http://www.law.wisc.edu/academics/courses/ and click on “60-Credit Rule Courses.”
All of the Mandatory Subject Area courses referenced above will count toward the 60-Credit Rule. A student who takes all of the Mandatory Subject Area courses (including the many found in the First-Year Program) will already have approximately 40 or more credits toward meeting the 60-Credit Rule. Thus, the student need only take 20 or so additional credits of 60-Credit Rule courses to meet the requirement.
In a student’s law school career, a cumulative maximum of only five clinical credits (to include internships and externships) will count toward the 60-Credit Rule for Diploma Privilege (but all such credits will count toward the 90-Credit Rule required for graduation (see 4.4.1 above)). In the Lawyering Skills Course, five of the eight credits will apply to the 60-Credit Rule, but all will count toward the 90-Credit Rule. For Professional Responsibilities, one credit will apply to the 60-Credit Rule, but all will count toward the 90-Credit Rule. For Trial Advocacy (including Mock Trial), a maximum of four credits will apply to the 60-Credit Rule for Diploma Privilege, but all will count toward the 90-Credit Rule for graduation.
As stated earlier, students must “satisfactorily complete” both the Mandatory Subject Matter courses and 60-Credit Rule courses for Diploma Privilege eligibility (SCR 40.03(2)). By Law School Rule, this is interpreted as both earning a weighted (or “cumulative”) average of at least 2.0 in the Mandatory Subject Matter courses (Law School Rule 3.04(1)(b)) and earning a weighted average of at least a 2.0 in the 60-Credit Rule area (Law School Rule 3.04(1)(c)). Note that this does not mean that a C (the letter equivalent of 2.0 on the 4.3 scale) is required in each course; rather, the weighted average must be 2.0 in each of these two categories of courses.
Thus, failure to achieve a weighted average of 2.0 or better on the Law School’s 4.3 scale in the Mandatory Subject Matter courses will prevent the student from receiving the Diploma Privilege upon graduation. This often means that a student who has not maintained a 2.0 average in the first-year courses will not be eligible for the Diploma Privilege. Thus, a student who achieves a better than 2.0 GPA for the 60-Credit Rule courses overall, but did not achieve a 2.0 or better for the Mandatory Subject Matter courses required for Diploma Privilege, must take the state bar examination to qualify to practice in Wisconsin after graduation. Similarly, students must also have a 2.0 average or better for all 60-Credit Rule courses overall.
(Note: grades earned in any semester following the semester in which the J.D. degree requirements are completed are not counted for Diploma Privilege eligibility purposes).
Wisconsin Supreme Court Rules state “[a]n applicant for bar admission shall establish good moral character and fitness to practice law.” Such an applicant must establish, to the satisfaction of the Board of Bar Examiners (BBE), that the applicant possesses the requisite character and fitness. (See SCR 40.06) Note that the burden is on the applicant to establish all necessary qualifications (SCR 40.07) and that the BBE “shall decline to certify the character and fitness of an applicant who knowingly makes a materially false statement of a material fact or who fails to disclose a fact necessary to correct a misapprehension known by the applicant to have arisen in connection with his or her application.” (SCR 40.06(3))
Information and Filing Instructions, along with the application packet, are available on the Wisconsin Supreme Court Board of Bar Examiners’ website: www.wicourts.gov/forms1/bbe.htm
You are strongly urged to review the Character and Fitness Certification application at your earliest possible convenience. The first reason for this is so that you can acquaint yourself with the nature of the information being sought (much of which may oblige you to consult personal records, documents, papers, or contact third parties for required information). The second reason is to identify any questions you might have about the application and how you should proceed in light of these questions. BBE staff members typically visit the Law School each autumn in order to answer law students’ questions. You are urged to take advantage of these visits by the BBE staff, who are also available by phone to answer questions about the application. DO NOT DELAY in beginning to assemble the information you will need to complete the application.
Here are some web-sites that may prove of use in the assembling of required information:
- Wisconsin Drivers record:
- Wisconsin Law Enforcement record:
If you have questions about the application or the application process not answered herein, you may contact the BBE Admissions at (608) 266-9760.
When you examine your application, note that there are varying fees, depending on one's graduation month and when one files the application. For May graduates who plan on taking advantage of the Diploma Privilege, you will typically pay a lower application fee if you file your application by a given date in mid-December. December graduates can save on the application fee if submission is made by a given date in mid-July. August graduates can save on the fee if submission is made by a given date in mid-March.
Please read the following paragraphs carefully. Although the formal deadline to file your Character and Fitness Certification application is based on when your degree is conferred (and degree conferral occurs at approximately the same time as graduation), if you wish to participate in the large-group swearing-in ceremony, your application should be filed approximately six months prior to the date of the swearing-in ceremony. This may seem early to you, but the Board of Bar Examiners requires 3 - 6 months to complete the character and fitness examinations for a great many applicants for admission. (If you will not be available for the large-group swearing-in ceremony, the BBE will send you the appropriate bar admission certification documents; you are then expected to either participate in the Supreme Court's regularly-scheduled monthly swearing-in ceremony, or to make your own arrangements regarding a private swearing-in.)
Applications may be submitted following the actual conferral of the degree. For May graduates, the application deadline is July 1; for December graduates, the deadline is February 1 (February 2 in 2015); for August graduates, the deadline is October 1. Of course, if you wait as long as the applicable deadline to file your application, you will still have to wait some months while your application is processed.
Importantly, if you miss this vital deadline altogether, you will have forfeited the opportunity to apply for Diploma Privilege and will have to sit for the Wisconsin Bar Examination. (Note: Students who study abroad or visit at another law school in their last term will find, even if forwarding of the resulting transcript to UW is delayed, that the UW Law School will “back-date” the conferral of their degree to the end of the term in question. However, if you have not yet submitted a Diploma Privilege application, the application deadline (e.g, July 1 for May graduates) may have already passed. Early application is thus encouraged.)
According to the Board of Bar Examiners (BBE), filing is completed on the date a properly executed application and applicable fees are received at the BBE office. The BBE does not recognize postmark dates.
Finally, once an application is timely filed, an applicant does have up to one year to complete the application process before losing the Diploma Privilege opportunity altogether.
Applicants are responsible for having a transcript sent to the BBE. Transcripts are ordered from the University Registrar (http://ordertranscript.wisc.edu/). The Law School will certify the graduate's law degree directly to the BBE.
Wisconsin, like a number of other states, is an “integrated bar.” This means that to hold a Wisconsin license to practice law you must belong to the State Bar of Wisconsin. Graduates of the Law School are generally admitted to the State Bar of Wisconsin by being sworn-in before the Supreme Court of the State of Wisconsin, usually at a large-group swearing-in shortly after graduation.
The Board of Bar Examiners (BBE), to which you will make your application for admission to the bar pursuant to the Diploma Privilege, will communicate with you about the details of your swearing-in before the Wisconsin Supreme Court. For May graduates, the large-group swearing-in is typically held in early- to mid-June. For December graduates, the large-group swearing-in is typically held in late January (this is typically a combined session with Marquette University Law School graduates). For August graduates, the BBE typically makes arrangements for individual swearing-ins in approximately late September. The BBE will not confirm you for swearing-in before the Wisconsin Supreme Court until your application has been finalized and the relevant character and fitness certification completed.
Information on admission to the Federal District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin is provided to graduating students approximately four to six weeks before the end of the final semester. For May graduates a large-group swearing-in ceremony before the Western District is scheduled on the same day as Wisconsin Supreme Court admission. Once you have been admitted to the State Bar of Wisconsin by virtue of being sworn-in before the Wisconsin Supreme Court, you can be admitted to the Western District—either in person (usually on the same day you are admitted before the Wisconsin Supreme Court), or later by mail.
While the process is made easy for you, you must nevertheless complete the online application, take the oath, and pay the fee before you can legally practice before this court. If you are interested in being admitted before the Western District, but will not be available for the large-group swearing-in ceremony, details on arranging for your own admission are available at: www.wiwd.uscourts.gov/attorney-admission.
For information about admission before the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, see 4.10 below.
A brief note about other federal courts: All federal courts have their own rules for admission. Most are easily met and can be done by mail, but most also require that your admission be moved by someone who is already a member of that court. Contact the clerk of the federal court where you are interested in practicing to obtain rules and applications. The UW Law Alumni Association and/or the Office of Career and Professional Development may be able to help you find someone in another state to move your admission.
4.10 Admission to the Bar of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Other Federal Courts, U.S. Supreme Court
Some graduates may desire to be admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin in Milwaukee instead of—or in addition to—the Western District Court in Madison. As is the case with the Western District, before you can be admitted to practice in the Eastern District, you must first be admitted before the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Applications and information regarding admission before the Eastern District are available online at http://www.wied.uscourts.gov/index.php. You should submit the required materials directly to the court in Milwaukee, either by mail or in person. You must have an attorney already admitted to practice before the Eastern District complete the required Affidavit in support of your admission. If you have any questions regarding admission before the Eastern District, please direct them to the court clerk's office at (414) 297-3372.
Admission to the bar of the U.S. Supreme Court requires that you practice three years before applying; the website is: www.supremecourtus.gov/bar/baradmissions.html.
If you are unable to make the scheduled group swearing-in, you can be sworn in at the Supreme Court next monthly admission ceremony. If you wish to be sworn-in to practice as a Wisconsin attorney but must leave the state permanently before the large-group swearing-in date for UW Law graduates, you