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If tenacity is a hallmark of successful lawyers, then Thomas Walsh is off to a good start. After nearly two years of letter writing, telephone campaigning, and a pro se federal lawsuit, Walsh has begun to see the fruits of his efforts in trying to change the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam requirements in the state. A new legislative proposal — Senate Bill No. 1107 — would amend the rules of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners to “require applicants for the Massachusetts Bar Examination who took the MPRE before March 1, 2001, to attain a minimum passing scaled score of 75.” In 2001, the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners changed requirements for admission to the bar by increasing the scaled passing score of the MPRE to 85 from 75. The board, for the July 2001 exam only, grandfathered applicants that previously passed the MPRE with a score of 75 or more. The Board also requires students to first pass the MPRE before taking the bar exam. Walsh, 27, took the MPRE in August 2000 when the state still required a scaled score of 75 to pass the test. Although he earned an 83, the shift in requirements promulgated by the Board of Bar Examiners — and the fact that he did not fit into the narrow class of grandfathered applicants — effectively prohibited him from taking the bar exam. Walsh, who now works for a law firm in Connecticut, has since taken and passed both the MPRE and the Massachusetts bar exam. Sen. Robert A. O’Leary, who represents the Cape Cod and Islands District, introduced the bill. “I filed this legislation after one of my constituents brought the problem to my attention, and I believe it is a simple issue of fairness,” said O’Leary. According to Kristen Binck, a legislative aide to O’Leary, the bill is presently with the Joint Committee on the Judiciary. Although no hearing on the bill has been scheduled, Binck said she expects one will be in the near future. “I fully support setting high standards for the Commonwealth’s attorneys,” said O’Leary. “But Massachusetts should ‘grandfather’ those students who had already passed the MPRE at the time the score was raised, as other states have done. We shouldn’t change the rules of the game midstream on those who already passed the MPRE.” Edward Barshak, director of the Mass. Board of Bar Examiners and an attorney with Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen in Boston, said that extending the grandfathering provisions beyond the July 2001 examination “would have created a substantial class of applicants with lower standards than the others.” Such a potential double standard cannot be justified, Barshak added. In September 2000, Walsh filed a pro se federal lawsuit seeking an injunction that would have required officials to allow him to take the state bar exam with his existing MPRE score. He later voluntarily dropped the lawsuit, but not before Judge Michael Ponsor sanctioned him with a $2000 Rule 11 fine for naming out-of-state defendants who had no responsibility for setting up the MPRE’s passing grade, which is left up to individual jurisdictions. In May 2002, the Supreme Judicial Court extended the effective date of the requirement that all applicants for admission to the bar must obtain a passing scaled score on the MPRE before applying to sit the bar examination to February 2004. For the July 2002, February 2003 and July 2003 bar examinations, applicants were eligible to sit the bar examination even though they had not yet achieved a passing score on the MPRE. Beginning with the February 2004 bar examination, applicants will be required to obtain a passing score on the MPRE prior to making application to sit the bar examination. “I think it’s a way they’re trying to limit the number of lawyers who can practice in Massachusetts,” said Walsh. “The market is glutted. But I think it’s the wrong way to go about it.” Walsh said that the experience has not discouraged his desire to practice law. “I saw going to law school as a powerful tool to help people who really needed it,” he said. “Even though this doesn’t affect me anymore, I’m going to see it through.”

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