20 March 2015

Whinging Law Deans

A short piece in the New York Times, which you can read here, features an attack on the place of the bar exam as a means of evaluating the qualifications of law school graduates to practice law. Prominent among the complainants are some law school deans. Why, after decades of silence about the place of the bar exam as a gate-keeper to practicing law, are the deans suddenly speaking up? The answer is simple:
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.
In other words, as the lack of success of their graduates (in the shrinking market for law students) in passing the bar exam becomes apparent, law deans are blaming the test, not themselves. They remind me of car manufacturers who blame car buyers when their cars don't meet fuel mileage standards. "Don't blame us if folks are buying too many gas guzzlers," they say.

In short, the race to the bottom by some law schools to keep their doors open is coming home to roost but these whinging deans don't want the outside world to know it.

Nearly five years ago I posted my thoughts about the utility of the bar exam here, and they haven't changed. The bar exam doesn't measure who is truly competent to practice law but it does identify those who aren't. In other words, the bar exam is a measure of likely incompetency. Passing it doesn't insure that someone will be a good lawyer but if you can't pass it, you almost certainly won't.

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