Recently, the exam that one must pass to practice law in the United States has fallen under serious scrutiny. Law school professors have always doubted the bar exam as a sufficient way of deciding who should be a lawyer, but last summer’s results were the worst in almost 10 years. Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, made a pointed comment that “…the group that sat in July 2014 was less able than the group that sat in July 2013.” This statement upset law school deans across the country, bringing up the question of whether something was wrong with the test itself.
Although the exam’s purpose is to filter out those who are unqualified to be lawyers, the truth is that it solely consists of memorization and does not accurately identify those who are able to successfully practice law. It also costs enormous amounts of time and money, because in most states you cannot take the exam until you receive your law school degree. Certain compulsory law courses are specifically formulated for the bar exam, rather than teaching how to be a sufficient litigator. Resources at universities have to be devoted to teaching how to pass this exam, since it is the final step toward the profession. The National Conference of Bar Examiners generates about $20 million per year, and nowadays making money seems to be the priority over training people to be proficient.
Kristin Booth Glen, a law professor at the City University of New York School of Law, says that the bar exam “does nothing to measure lawyering skills.” Each state has different requirements for their part of the exam, but the Multistate section of the bar exam consists of hundreds of multiple choice, testing the knowledge of criminal law, torts, contracts, constitutional law, evidence and real property. It is hardly believable that multiple-choice questions are verifying the eligibility of potential lawyers. Following this tangent, some states have begun to amend the qualifications for being a lawyer. In Wisconsin, instead of taking the bar exam, a law school diploma will suffice. Iowa proposed a privilege similar to this, but their Supreme Court rejected it last year. The bar exam should eventually be completely eliminated. If students are smart and driven enough to be admitted to a law school, yearly tests and mock trials should determine who stays in the university.
In European countries, law is an undergraduate program rather than another expensive postgraduate prospect. Before transferring to UConn for Economics, I studied Law and Business at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland. I was pursuing a Bachelor of Laws and took Torts and Contract Law as an 18-year-old first year, which is unheard of here in the U.S. The exams at the end of the year simulated the idea and intent of the bar exam, asking students to argue cases and back their reasoning with rules of law as well as past case law. The Contract Law class shadowed the “all or nothing” feel of the bar exam, because of the fact that the grade in the class was solely based on the end of year exam. This is a better way of helping young students discover their strengths and weaknesses in law. Instead of wasting thousands of dollars studying subjects in an undergraduate program that genuinely is not a preparation for studying law, students should have the option to obtain a Bachelor of Laws. This should be followed by a year in the field, interning and learning from superiors how to excel at the job.
The University of New Hampshire has a program somewhat like this, where second and third year law school students can take an apprenticeship teaching them the foundations of being a lawyer. Universities throughout the country should follow in these footsteps, but first a stride needs to be taken in extinguishing the bar exam as the only and daunting qualification of practicing law.
University boards may claim that a liberal arts education produces a well-rounded individual with many different facets of knowledge, but at what cost? The flexibility of this type of schooling is beneficial, but not when it is the only option. There should be programs in place, like those that I experienced in Ireland, which give students the option to take classes only in the field of their interest. Law school is as expensive, if not more expensive, than a bachelor’s degree. To suit the needs of everyone, including those who cannot afford seven years of schooling, the option to have law as an undergraduate degree will benefit everyone in the process.