Ilya Somin (George Mason), How to Make Bar Exams Great Again:
This month, many of my former students will be going through the painful drudgery of studying for and taking the bar exam, as will many other recent law school graduates. Last year, my co-blogger Orin Kerr, wrote a post recounting his experience the California bar exam at the age of 46. The whole thing is worth reading. But I wish to highlight this part:
I know it's crazy stressful now. But it will be over soon, and when it is over you can forget everything you just learned.
The reason why you can "forget everything" immediately after the exam is that very little of the material on it actually needed to practice law. It's a massive memorization test that functions as a barrier to entry, not a genuine test of professional competence. That strengthens the case for my view that the bar exam should simply be abolished. But if that isn't feasible, there is also my "modest proposal" for bar exam reform. I first wrote it up ten years ago. But I believe it remains just as relevant today:
My general view on bar exams is that they should be abolished, or at least that you should not be required to pass one in order to practice law. If passing the exam really is an indication of superior or at least adequate legal skills, then clients will choose to hire lawyers who have passed the exam even if passage isn't required to be a member of the bar. Even if a mandatory bar exam really is necessary, it certainly should not be administered by state bar associations, which have an obvious interest in reducing the number of people who are allowed to join the profession, so as to minimize competition for their existing members.
In this post, however, I want to suggest a more modest reform. Members of bar exam boards… and presidents and other high officials of state bar associations should be required to take and pass the bar exam every year by getting the same passing score that they require of ordinary test takers. Any who fail to pass should be immediately dismissed from their positions, and their failure publicly announced (perhaps at a special press conference by the state attorney general). And they should be barred from ever holding those positions again until—you guessed it—they take and pass the exam. ...
Today, I would amend the proposal by adding the requirement that bar leaders must take the exam at the same location and under the same conditions as ordinary test takers. That would create an incentive to end the situation where—in many states – exams are only administered at one or two locations that are time-consuming and expensive for test-takers to get to.
The time has come to make bar exams great again—or at least less awful than they currently are!