Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Critics Are Wrong: The Bar Exam Is A Necessary Process Of Becoming A Lawyer

National Law Journal op-ed:  Like Father Like Son, Bar-Exam Ritual Is a Necessity of the Profession, by Peter Kalis (Chairman & Global Managing Partner, K&L Gates, New York) & Michael Kalis (Associate, Gruber Hurst Elrod Johansen Hail Shank, Dallas):

Law school taught them how to think like lawyers; exam prep taught them the law. ...

Across three decades and 1,000 miles, the experiences of both have left them with a clear view of the bar exam and has rendered its critics a little off-key. Because of the intense pressure surrounding the bar exam, it's not unreasonably viewed as a gating event. After all, the bar exam is how you get your union card.

In reality, however, the bar exam is part of a much longer process on the way to becoming a lawyer. The critics need to get out of an "event" frame of mind and into a "process" frame of mind.

So what is this process? Among other things, law is a language art, and the language of choice is English. The process therefore begins much earlier than law school and involves mastering English. We're not talking about emulating Keats, who at 26 was the greatest poet in the English language — and dead. We're talking about communications skills and the ability to appreciate and employ nuance in language. Proficiency at English is the true gating item for a career in law in the United States. ...

The proposed reforms to the bar exam — some of which focus on turning law school as well as the bar exam into an experiment in vocationalism — should follow a more process-oriented approach. Consider Microsoft Corp.'s initiative with the University of Washington School of Law in which diverse law students ("Gregoire Fellows," named after a former governor of Washington) are provided with financial assistance to enable them to take bar review courses, among other items. This program recognizes that becoming a lawyer is a process, that the bar exam is an important milestone and that the bar review course is a critical element in passing the bar exam.

The Elder and the Younger are still traumatized by their bar exam experiences but have come to appreciate that learning how to operate under enormous pressure with imperfect information is a big part of practicing law. Whatever its shortcomings, the bar exam gets that exactly right.

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Not able to read the entire article, but I agree that the entirety of becoming an attorney should be seen as a process. My question is, why do we dictate a specific process for being able to sit for the licensing event? The authors reference Keats as a great English language poet, yet had he been a lawyer today, his schooling pedigree would have shut doors in his face. Additionally, Keats apprenticed for his career, something that is missing in today's process of becoming a lawyer. Our current process does not look to create a Keats, but instead is closer to Ford's assembly line. In that respect, I agree that blaming the final event for the failures of the process is misguided.

Posted by: Daniel | May 12, 2015 7:54:09 AM