Tougher Bar Exams All Around

Nearly every jurisdiction in the country has hopped on the bandwagon to weed out future attorneys.  Illinois is the most recent state to formally announce a tougher bar exam.

There have been loud calls for reform in the legal economy.  It seems that the state bar associations have decided that if law schools will not limit the number of law students to try and balance supply and demand, then the state bar associations will make the bar exam tougher to limit entrants.

Take Michigan, for example.  When I took the Michigan bar exam in February 2010, there was a nearly 80% passage rate.  As of July 2012, the passage rate had sunk to a dismal 55% for first time takers.  This was all with an easy swipe of a scoring pen -- the State Bar of Michigan decided that it would no longer curve essays.

Now the question is, at what score is a potential attorney competent to practice law?  In other words, what did I not need to know in 2010 that I now need to know in 2012 to practice law?  There are currently studies being conducted on how this new scoring policy affects minority test takers.  I wonder if this new scoring policy will help revert law back to an elitist institution.

I understand the need to balance the supply and demand of lawyers, but I am not sure that this is the way.  One of the most obvious areas of reformation is the cost of law school.  Other articles have noted that there is, in fact, not an oversupply of lawyers.  The real problem is that the current crop of lawyers cannot afford to offer services to many low-income people who lack legal representation.  As I've mentioned in a previous post, nearly 85% of law students graduate with nearly $100,000 in student debt.  And there are still many people who need legal services who cannot afford them.  If we make law school less expensive so that future attorneys can make a decent salary, they will be more likely to offer low-cost services to those who need it most.

ABA Journal Tougher Bar Exams


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