Monday, December 19, 2016

In Defense of the Bar Exam

When the number of law school applicants plummeted a few years ago, many schools dipped very deep into the applicant pool – as in near open enrollment – to fill seats and boost revenues.  Not surprisingly, three years later when these students graduated, some schools’ bar passage rates dipped – and in some cases went into free-fall.  (You can see the carnage in California, for example, here.)  The problem is that a low enough bar passage rate for a long enough period of time could put the school’s ABA accreditation at risk.  So the natural response of some law schools was to blame the bar exam as being an unfair test – a position that now aligns nicely with their desire to fill their seats with any student loan conduit applicant who can pass the mirror test.  But now, two deans have written an op-ed on the Tax Prof Blog to point out the flaws in law schools’ worn-out arguments.  Kudos to them; you can find their work here.


  1. Michael
    Some observations by way of counterpoint. What to make of bar exam pass rate discrepancies and variations inasmuch as the bar exams are controlled by attorneys picked by the bar to prepare and grade the exams? Let's face it, bar exams are tools of exclusion freighted with potential and actual bias because attorneys picked by the cartel function as de facto gatekeepers on who gets in or doesn't. The bar exam is nothing more than another instrument to regulate supply and demand and protect the cartel. I am no fan of it. The ogolopolists hide behind 'protecting the public' to justify the bar exam while at the same time conceding that it really only tests for "minimal competency to practice law." But if you must have one, it should be one uniform test nationwide. Take the state bars out of it. Or better yet, why not follow the Wisconsin's "diploma privilege" model? As you know, the so-called diploma privilege allows Badger State law school students who graduate with a gentleman's "C" or better to secure a license to practice law in Wisconsin without taking a bar exam. One presumes such qualified graduates have the "minimal competency to practice law." Unfortunately, Wisconsin is the only state in the country that offers the diploma privilege. Is the public endangered by the absence of a bar exam in Wisconsin? I daresay not.

    As for the bottom-feeders racing to the deepest recesses of the nether regions to fill their law school seats, I can't disagree with that. It's patently obvious there's no altruistic moral highmindedness involved. It's just greed and self-preservation.

  2. Mo, I'm torn on this one. On the one hand, the bar exam is about as useful as most CLEs. But on the other hand, some law schools have been admitting and graduating some really, really bad students. Tough call and mixed emotions. It's like that quote from the movie Wall Street: "Mixed emotions, like watching [insert name of foe here] going over a cliff -- in my new Maserati."