Students are failing the bar exam and law schools are pushing to give them something easier instead. That’s one takeaway from a piece in The Washington Post on an effort by law schools to de-emphasize the bar exam or replace it with alternatives. The story reports on an ongoing controversy over last year’s bar exam results, in which “51,005 test takers had the poorest results in nearly a decade.” More:
Many law school deans, bristling from criticism that they are replenishing their ranks with less academically qualified students as the number of law school applicants has fallen sharply, began to openly question the mechanics of the bar exam. […]About 80 law school deans last November jointly asked, for the first time anyone remembers, for details on how test questions were chosen and scored. The situation was already touchy after remarks made the previous month by a top bar exam official, who defended the results as indisputably correct, and then, in what the deans viewed as verbal dynamite, labeled the test takers as “less able” than their predecessors. […]All states but one, Wisconsin, require passing the bar exam to become a licensed lawyer, but bar associations in states including Arizona and Iowa have been exploring alternatives.
Those alternatives include “diploma privilege” that lets law school graduates start practicing without taking the bar or apprenticeship programs that replace it. This response paints an unflattering picture: desperate law schools are recruiting less talented students to keep their revenue up, failing to prep them effectively, and then demanding the standard be lowered. This is a horrible idea. Entry tests are one thing—it’s up to the schools to decide how to select it’s student body—but good comprehensive exit exams to test what people have learned are very valuable.Apprenticeship programs are a good idea as a way of cutting the time spent in law school or supplementing the education it provides, but not as a replacement for the bar. In fact, eliminating the bar exam is the opposite of the kind of reform law schools need. Rather, we’d ideally like a system (as used to be the case in America) in which students can take the bar without going to law school, not go to law school without taking the bar.