Law Graduate Sues for Open-Book Bar Exam

By William Vogeler, Esq. on July 27, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Mark Tetzlaff is an academic overachiever, but he just can't pass the bar exam.

He has a JD, an MBA, an MA, and a BBA, and is pursuing an LLM on scholarship. He has done nearly 200 research and writing projects in state and federal courts.

But he has failed the bar exam four times because he has short-term memory loss, he says. So he is suing the Illinois state bar to allow him to take an open-book exam.

A Unique Request

"[R]equesting the open book format is unique, and no doubt, a precedential request," his complaint says.

The lawsuit says the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar and its representative denied him "reasonable accommodations" under the Americans with Disabilities Act. He had asked the board to give him more time to take the test, a room without distractions, and an open-book exam.

The board granted his request for more time and a semi-private room, but denied his request for an open-book test. He responded by filing in federal district court in Wisconsin, where he resides; he also failed the bar exam there.

Tetzlaff admits he is an unusual bar exam candidate, a self-described "seasoned, albeit unlicensed attorney." The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel calls that "an understatement."

Student Loan Hero?

Before his most recent lawsuit, Tetzlaff had filed in bankruptcy court to discharge more than $260,000 in federal student loans. He claimed an "undue hardship" due to chronic unemployment, depression, and other personal problems.

The HuffPost asked at the time, "Will Mark Tetzlaff Be our Student Loan Hero?" The bankruptcy court answered "no," but Tetzlaff has proved there is no quit in him.

If he doesn't win the right to take an open-book bar exam, he could get a license to practice without taking the exam. Wisconsin automatically grants law licenses to graduates of ABA-accredited schools there.

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