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While states like New York and Massachusetts continue to blossom each year in terms of the number of students taking the bar, Connecticut — with its steady decline in exam applicants over the past decade — could best be described as a shrinking violet. According to David Stamm, administrative director for the Connecticut Bar Examining Committee, only 800 students sat for the bar exam on July 26, compared to the 876 students who sat for the exam this time last year. “It is a rapid decline,” Stamm said of the 50 percent reduction since 1991, when the state reached its peak attendance of 1,638 bar candidates. “I wish I knew why.” New Jersey has also seen a slight decline in students sitting for the bar exam this year, while New York registered an increase of 700 takers, and Massachusetts increased by 146 over last summer’s count. Although applicants can also take the bar in February, attendance at the summer exam tends to correlate more closely with the choice of a primary jurisdiction in which to practice. Connecticut law school administrators said that they have not noticed any decline in the numbers of students applying to law school; but they have seen an increase in the number of students who prefer to practice elsewhere for financial reasons. Associate Dean of Students for Quinnipiac Law School Celia-Ann Edwards said she was not surprised by the decline in students taking the Connecticut bar, based on what she has heard from attorneys in the state. “They are expanding their searches [for lawyers] from outside of Connecticut,” Edwards said of firms who are feeling a pinch in the numbers of qualified graduates. Edwards said many out-of-state students have been looking to practice in their home states first, but may choose Connecticut as second choice. Hartford Attorney Alan K. Reisner of Butler Norris & Gold said he agreed that economics has played a large role in the decline of students taking the bar in the state, but for a different reason. “In the late 1980s there were too many people taking the bar exam,” Reisner said. “We were over-populated with lawyers.” Reisner said that if the state needed more lawyers, there would be inflated salaries for new associates; and although the starting base pay has increased, he said the amount of the increase was not sufficient to indicate a shortage of attorneys. “It’s the pendulum swinging,” Reisner said. “I’m not sure how far back it is going to swing, but if there is a need for more layers there will be more lawyers.” Justin Dion, a 25-year-old recent law school graduate living in Springfield, is taking the Massachusetts bar on July 26 in preference to the Connecticut bar. He said that because Massachusetts and Connecticut hold their exams on the same day, he was forced him to choose between them. Dion added that he would probably take the Connecticut bar in February, because the state accepts another jurisdiction’s multi-state portion of the test, whereas Massachusetts does not. “The office I’ll be working on is right on the border,” Dion said of Springfield’s Burstein Law Firm. “It’s good economics.” Diane Ballou, former director of career services at the University of Connecticut School of Law and now director of career services at Quinnipiac University School of Law, said that although a majority of students graduating from UConn last year stayed in the state, at least 18 percent of students got their first jobs practicing in New Jersey or New York. “You could buy a really nice house for what people are in debt for,” Ballou said of law school costs. “Sometimes they have to work where the income is higher.” Robert Cohen, assistant director and vice-president of Barbri, agreed with Edwards that more students are taking Connecticut’s bar exam as a secondary, rather than a primary, consideration. “If Connecticut is experiencing a drop in bar takers, then more people are taking jobs elsewhere,” Cohen said. Cohen also said that so many students from Connecticut-based law schools have shown an interest in taking the Massachusetts bar exam that this year he offered a prep course for those students in Hartford. Other students are looking at career options that do not require bar admission. “They are looking to take their law degrees and go elsewhere,” Cohen said of students going into the stock market or to Internet start up businesses. “A number of people come to me and say “I don’t need the bar, I have my law degree, I’ll take it later.” As nervous chatter filled the ballroom halls of the Radisson Hotel in Cromwell Wednesday, students anxiously waited to take the Connecticut bar exam, many of whom said they had jobs lined up in the state. “I’m not at all nervous,” Brian DuPerry, 29 of Norwich said. “That might be a bad sign�I don’t know.” DuPerry, who graduated from the Massachusetts School of Law in North Andover, said he took a year off to look for a job in the field before taking the bar. DuPerry said he plans to practice with the Law Offices of Arnaldo Sierra in Hartford, Conn.. Windsor brothers Justin, 28, and Deron, 26, Freeman were obviously a bit nervous about the exam as Deron fumbled over the words trying to remember where his father’s practice was located. “No, I’m not nervous — I can’t even remember where my dad’s practice is,” Deron said lightheartedly of his father, Donald E. Freeman’s, Hartford firm. Rich Rochlin, a UConn graduate, said he felt at ease since he took the essay portion of the New York bar the day before. “”It’s better to take New York first,” Rochlin, who will practice with Bingham & Dana said. “It’s like you can already see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

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