Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Why This Pandemic Is A Good Time To Stop Forcing Prospective Lawyers To Take Bar Exams

Washington Post op-ed:  Why This Pandemic Is a Good Time to Stop Forcing Prospective Lawyers to Take Bar Exams, by Donna Saadati-Soto (J.D. 2020, Harvard), Pilar Margarita Hernández Escontrías (J.D. 2020, UC-Irvine), Alyssa Leader (J.D. 2020, North Carolina) & Emily Croucher (UC-Irvine):

Twice a year, in July and February, thousands of hopeful lawyers-to-be file into crowded convention centers across the country. After three years of law school and two months of grueling, devoted preparation, we face what we’ve been anticipating since the beginning of our legal education: the bar exam.

The exam is equal parts a standardized test and hazing ritual. We are told the exam exists to weed out potential lawyers who are unfit for practice. Despite little to no empirical evidence that the exam accomplishes this goal, we are told that the exam protects the public. But this summer, in the midst of a global pandemic, that claim feels more dubious than ever.

Across the country, state Supreme Courts and boards of bar examiners have been reluctant to make changes to the legal licensing process to accommodate the challenges of covid-19. In some states, students will still be expected to crowd together by the thousands, sitting for two days of exams with only the protection of a mask and a few feet of distance. Other states have delayed exams, forcing some graduates to put off the jobs they relied upon to begin paying off their student loans. Others have moved exams online, making scores non-transferrable for those who wish to practice in another state.

Recognizing that covid-19 is expected to increase the need for high-quality, scrappy attorneys ready to serve, we have a different solution: Do away with the bar exam altogether. ...

As 2020 graduates, many of us were suddenly booted from our law school housing, and scrambled to find alternative places to live in a matter of days. We completed the remainder of law school entirely online. We have lost our part-time and full-time jobs, and many of our long-term employment arrangements and start dates are up in the air. We have taken on new care-taking responsibilities for children or parents. Many of us have been involved in the ongoing movement for black lives. Through all of this, we have more than proved our grit, determination and ability.

We should not be forced to jump through yet another hoop that puts our lives and livelihoods at risk, in the name of tradition. We must do better.

Coronavirus, Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


Quote: "I've got it. LSAT over 160 = no bar exam. Who's with me."

I suspect you're missing the point—or being sarcastic. This move isn't there to avoid unduly burdening top students. They will easily pass. It's to avoid embarrassing law schools who've admitted students with dismally low LSAT scores and find their embarrassment magnified years later when those student fail and re-fail their bar exams. It's those with low LSATs that these law schools want to see pass into legal practice without a bar exam.

I saw something similar in high school with students who could not even read but were getting passed along, year after year, for social reasons.

Posted by: Mike Perry | Jul 15, 2020 6:14:05 AM

This makes sense from a certain perspective. Why should someone who is paying hundreds of dollars an hour for services that may make or break their lives have any assurance that the lawyer they're hiring actually knows something about law? Such expectations are unfair and damage the all-important self-esteem of would-be lawyers. Out with the bar exams I say. Now let us move on to physicians...

Posted by: Mike Perry | Jul 15, 2020 6:04:37 AM

I've got it. LSAT over 160 = no bar exam. Who's with me.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 14, 2020 8:49:08 PM

The bar exam - or some kind of exam - is a much better, fairer and more affordable way to both protect the public and their confidence in new grads than other things we might rely on, like the fuzzy reputations of elitist, expensive schools and exploitative entry level employers. Why not improve the test, streamline the required preparation, and trim those out?

Posted by: Anand Desai | Jul 14, 2020 7:45:02 PM

This is absurd. The bar exam, including preparation for the bar exam, is a great way to instill and ensure a basic measure of legal competency before we permit students to represent others for money in their legal affairs. Law school inadequately prepares people to practice.

If we want to go back to an apprenticeship model, that might have merit. But law school to a license to practice will result in a lot of pain for a lot of people.

Posted by: Anonymous | Jul 14, 2020 11:10:04 AM