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Pepperdine University School of Law

Monday, December 5, 2005

Former Stanford Dean Fails California Bar Exam

Interesting front page story in this morning's Wall Street Journal:  Raising the Bar: Even Top Lawyers Fail California Exam; Former Stanford Law Dean, Becomes Latest Victim; A Mayor Tries Four Times:

Kathleen Sullivan is a noted constitutional scholar who has argued cases before the Supreme Court. Until recently, she was dean of Stanford Law School. In legal circles, she has been talked about as a potential Democratic nominee for the Supreme Court. But Ms. Sullivan recently became the latest prominent victim of California's notoriously difficult bar exam. Last month, the state sent out the results of its July test to 8,343 aspiring and already-practicing lawyers. More than half failed -- including Ms. Sullivan. Although she is licensed to practice law in New York and Massachusetts, Ms. Sullivan was taking the California exam for the first time after joining a Los Angeles-based firm as an appellate specialist. The California bar exam has created misery for thousands of aspiring and practicing lawyers. Former California Gov. Jerry Brown passed on his second try, while former Gov. Pete Wilson needed four attempts. The recently elected mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio R. Villaraigosa, never did pass the bar after failing four times.

But it's unusual for the exam to claim a top-notch constitutional lawyer at the peak of her game. "She is a rock star," says William Urquhart, who last year recruited Ms. Sullivan to join his firm, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges LLP. "Practically every lawyer in the U.S. knows who Kathleen Sullivan is." If anyone should have passed, Mr. Urquhart says, it is Ms. Sullivan. "The problem is not with Kathleen Sullivan, it is with the person who drafted the exam or the person who graded it."...

Ms. Sullivan is unlikely to need as many attempts as Maxcy Dean Filer, who may hold the California bar endurance record, having passed in 1991 after 47 unsuccessful tries. The Compton, Calif., man, who says he'll practice any kind of law that "comes through the door -- except probate and bankruptcy," says he always tried to psych himself up before taking the test by repeating, "I didn't fail the bar, the bar failed me."

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The word schadenfreude comes to mind.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz | Dec 5, 2005 8:50:59 AM

If you have passed the California bar on your first attempt, Congrats, but you really shouldn't be so pompous! LOOK AT THE STATISTICS! Funny how they REMAIN FAIRLY CONSTANT year after year for at least the past ten years.

If you are prepared and write your essays well on your first attempt, you will probably pass. But, even if you are prepared and write your essays well on your second attempt, you will most likely NOT pass! Not on your second, third, fourth, fifth...or any other number, as a REPEATER!

A 62% chance to pass (because you're a First-Time Taker from an ABA California law school) compared to a 16% chance to pass (because you're a REPEATER from an ABA out-of-state law school or worse, 9% because you went to a non-ABA school) doesn't make you any smarter. It just means you had the odds stacked in your favor and were fortunate to take the test well, which means, merely without incident on your first try. STOP ACTING LIKE POMPOUS ASSES MERELY BECAUSE YOU HAPPEN TO PASS A JADED STATE BAR EXAM! (The truly bright new attorneys are those that pass the bar exam coming from the non-ABA schools, as REPEATERS---they've had to endure and overcome an exam graded so prejudicially, that its not only unfair, its obscene.)

Thank God, most states do not mess up people's lives by playing such ridiculous political games! If California wants to keep the number of attorneys to a certain manageable number, the California Bar should do so fairly---equally across the board. Everyone that takes the bar exam deserves an equal chance to pass whether its their first time or fourth. California's favored sons should not be given such a huge advantage!

If Ms. Sullivan takes the California Bar Exam again (whether she's "prepared" or not) I guarantee she will NOT pass her first time as a REPEATER (especially from out-of-state!), UNLESS the California Bar makes note of WHO she is, the second time around! CAN THEY DO THAT? Probably not. DO THEY DO THAT? OOOH, YES THEY DO!!!!

Posted by: Anonymous | Dec 21, 2005 12:50:07 AM