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The Qualifying Procedure at the Law School

published March 05, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
Published By
( 4 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
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The law school Help Employer’s Determine Who's Worth Hiring. If the LSAT is designed to predict your performance in the first year of law school, and if legal employers choose you on the basis of that first year, why not skip law school altogether and cut out the middleman? It seems like the LSAT people could cook up an exam that would tell employers the same thing that the first year of law school tells them. Law professors might say that their classes provide a better "screen" of your ability to practice law than any standardized test can, but it's not true, and anyway, if it were, I'd have to ask, then, why we need a standardized bar exam.

The Qualifying Procedure at the Law School

There are real problems with placing much faith in the screening value of law school grades:

What firm has not regularly bemoaned that law school does not prepare students for the practice of law? Yet we are willing to take law school grades as strong evidence of how they will perform in practice. Am I missing something, or does that not make a whole hell of a lot of sense? And who is making these evaluations for us? By and large, professors who are likely to have little appreciation of what it takes to be a successful practitioner.

Law firms and other employers definitely do use law school grades as an indicator of your abilities. And there's probably some merit to that. But it doesn't take three years to detect aptitude and motivation.

I suspect that a lot of the emphasis on grades comes from a basic desire, on the part of the attorneys who do the hiring, to cover their rear ends. If they hire someone with great grades, they can't be easily criticized if that new lawyer turns out to be a bozo, whereas if they take a chance on someone who was mediocre in law school, and that person does poorly, all the blame will come back to the lawyer who made the hiring recommendation. It's a long stretch from there, however, to the assertion that your law school grades will give employers a reliable indicator of your ability to practice law.

To Prepare You for the Bar Exam.
I can tell you right off that there's nothing to this theory. The ABA rules for law schools used to say explicitly that "The law school may not offer to its students, for academic credit or as a condition to graduation, instruction that is designed as a bar examination review course."

That rule did not prevent the law school from teaching subjects that appear on the bar exam. The bar covers so many subjects that there would hardly be anything left for law schools to do if that were the case. Instead, the rule meant just that law schools must concentrate on teaching the subjects without regard to how you might use what you learn.

That rule does not appear in the revised ABA rules for law schools. But its spirit lives on. Since those rules were revised in 1983, professional bar review courses have not exactly suffered a serious decline in enrollment as law schools raced to become more bar oriented.

The underlying principle here is that it's low class for a law school to concentrate on the bar exam. Thus, the "national'' law schools emphasize that they're training students who can practice law anywhere, and not just in the states in which those schools are located.

In fact, the prestigious law schools seem to take perverse pride in the thought that their graduates might not perform as well on the bar exam as those who graduate from a "local" school. It seemed to be commonly accepted at Columbia.
This state of affairs keeps the big-name schools from having to compete head-to-head against the supposedly lowbrow schools. You can't get statistics on how many graduates of each school pass the bar exam, but even if you could, and even if any prestigious Law school had a higher pass rate, other schools could look down their noses and say, "Well, thank God this Law School does something well."

Practically everyone wants to go to one of the big-name schools. By ignoring the fact that those schools are not particularly concerned with the bar exam, these students essentially admit that the bar exam is not a big concern to them. And no matter which school they attend, many will study securities law, international law, and other areas that hardly appear on the exam, while ignoring subjects that will be tested heavily. Given this, it's no surprise that even the ABA's Section on Legal Education has suggested that law school programs and bar exams are out of kilter with one another.

To Teach You What You Need to Know to Practice Law?
If the bar exam tests your readiness to practice law, then law schools that don't prepare their graduates for the bar exam are shortchanging them. On the other hand, if law schools feel comfortable ignoring the bar exam, then they must think that it doesn't test what you need for a legal career.

Something's got to give. For the moment, though, let's assume that, no matter what's on the bar exam, law schools are keeping their eye on this question: What should we teach our students to make them good attorneys? Of course, we'll have to ignore these contradictory statements by legal experts:

The function of law school is to teach a trade.


If a legal education is designed solely to prepare the student to pass a bar examination, to know the rules (whatever that may mean), and to learn "the tricks of the trade," then the law school does not belong in the modern university.

Or, on the bar exam specifically:

If the bar exams became the sole criteria, law schools might teach toward the bar exam, instead of better, deeper teaching. Yale doesn't teach toward the bar exam. A lesser institution might have a better bar exam pass rate. But to choose a lesser institution over Yale is absolutely crazy.

As opposed to:

Almost all of the 60,000 people who take the Multi state exam every year must take a bar review course to pass the exam. Are these bar review companies doing something that the law schools should be doing?

Or, on the long-term future:

There is not a single lawyer with whom I went to law school who feels that his legal education adequately prepared him for the practice of law or anything else for that matter.


published March 05, 2013

By Author - LawCrossing
( 4 votes, average: 4 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.