A National Bar Exam?
I was perusing my usual list of reading in Google Reader today and came across this interesting bit: a national bar exam, whereupon successful completion, a newly minted Esquire may be certified to practice law in any state he chooses. Naturally, a lot of law students like this idea despite the fact that many, including myself, consider the Bar exam and most standardized testing an anachronistic waste of time and money. (Hat Tip: Best Practices for Legal Education Blog, One BAR to rule them all…) Here’s a quote for ye:
The time to act is now, [Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, says]. She mentions globalization in the profession, as well as a terrible job market that leaves many students unable to tell what state they’ll be working in when it’s time to sign up for bar exams and prep courses.
I highlighted the relevant language because this ought to be a prime, motivating factor for such an initiative. I think we have all heard the horror stories about deferred first year associates and massive lay offs. A national bar exam seems like a good idea. If one job market looks like crap and you think you might have better odds in the neighboring state, then why not try it out? It’d be nice if there were no obstacles in your way, like some other state’s exam which will probably cost you some dough at a time when you’re still trying to pay off your student debts (including thousands of dollars of debt incurred for taking bar prep and paying for the bar itself).
Unless God Himself intervenes, however, I (cynically) predict that things will stay exactly the same for some time. The reason I think this is because state bar examiners still cling to the belief that a licensing exam is the best way to determine who deserves to be a capable attorney. Also, states like California would not be apt to pick up on a national bar exam because California is a vast maze of legal nuance, thereby ingraining bar examiners into the mindset that a localized bar is better to prepare a would-be attorney for California practice, than a national bar that would not be customized to California’s particular legal market. To that I say: Big Deal. There is a reason why there are treatises like California Jurisprudence and Witkin, etc.: to get lawyers up to speed on what the law is in California. Oh, and lawyers have clerks too. Have them do the research if you can’t pick up a state-specific treatise and read it.
All of this doesn’t deflect another concern that the NCBE probably has self-interested motives for advocating a national bar exam, but in standard law school fashion, let’s balance the harm versus the utility of such a thing and see what the less onerous result is. For the sake of moving things along I’ll wrap this up by just saying I stand for a nationalized exam. It makes more sense than each state deciding how much of a barrier they want to throw up in front of capable law students who successfully navigated law school. I wish the NCBE the best; their fight will take years to see some fruition. (There is another obverse to my pro-national exam: the national exam being harder than the state exam that got replaced; and also the national exam being a complete exercise in ineptitude so that anyone with a functioning brain stem could pass it, but those are blog posts for another time.)
Give Teachers More Money
From Adjunct Law Prof Blog, it was reported that some website with a snappy name went and listed the best undergraduate majors by salary. Naturally, the social sciences had some of the lousiest starting pay. Speaking as a history major, however, I can tell you that you MUST pick what you love or your undergrad years are going to D-R-A-G. Nothing drains the spirit by being locked in abysmal classes whose subject matter you cannot stand. (I was a former computer science major. Pure hell, I tell you. So glad I finally saw the light.)
One thing I keep shaking my head is at lousy starting and mid-career pay scales for teachers. These people deserve the big bucks because they shape the minds of our children, and yet we pay them like they were lowly DMV clerks. The Adjunct Law Prof says: “[I]t has been known for some time that teachers are not paid the best. Therefore, very few students go into teaching for the money. That is how it should be.” Yeah, but I believe the harder you work the more you should benefit from it, even if teachers already benefit from the satisfaction of expanding young minds. This is particularly true in a profession where the school administration is automatically antagonistic towards you and will always throw you under the bus when parents complain or threaten legal action. It makes me think of the people I know in law school who would have stayed in the teaching profession but for the horrible working environment, long hours, stress and low pay for doing something they originally loved but came to hate. Giving teachers an extra 20K a year is a decent start, I think.
Also from Adjunct:
- Lawyers talk too much.
- Students from lower tiered schools are much happier workers.
A New (Approach To) Law School
Last, and certainly not least, there is good friend Brian Baker @ Life on the Outskirts, whose article The Window for New ABA Law Schools is Closing Fast is very interesting. Mr. Baker premises, inter alia, that the legal education system is changing, personified by the newly established UC Irvine School of Law:
[Dean Irwin Chemerinsky states:] “If we just replicate other law schools, UCI will fail in its unique opportunity to create an ideal law school.” So, what is his plan? Simple, “starting with its first year, when law students will be introduced to the practical tools of their profession through a lawyering-skills class that integrates clinical experience. Then, in their second year, students will work through simulated fact situations, honing their skills in a particular field of civil or criminal law, so that when they are ready to register for a third-year, semester-long clinical course, they will already have a working knowledge of how to represent clients.”
In addition, Dean Chemerinsky plans to introduce inter-disciplinary education into doctrinal courses. For example, the Dean states. “[i]f you’re going to do business or tax law,” he argues, “you’re going to need to know some economics. If you’re going to do criminal law, you need to know some psychology. If you’re going to do patent law, you need to know some engineering. And if you’re going to do environmental law, you need some environmental science.”
This, my friends, is the future of legal education. Not many schools can afford to do it at the tuition levels they charge now. Not many schools will be able to do it with the faculty they have now. This alone will close many law schools and cause many to be merged.
I’m all for the interdisciplinary approach but many law students I have spoken to have no clue what they’re going to practice in, or some, like me, had an idea of what they wanted to do but are learning that that area of the law just isn’t for them. If I went to UCI, I would hate to think that all my psychology courses were a waste of time once I realized that criminal law was the absolute last thing on this Earth I wanted to do. However, my argument is premised on the idea that UCI’s interdisciplinary approach means concurrent enrollment in law school courses and undergraduate courses. Maybe what they meant was having a criminal law class with “psychology of crime” literature sprinkled into the case book (which I wonder if there are any even published). Oh man, another thought just came to mind: you already know you hate criminal law but have to take it because its a bar course, and now here you are reading cases AND being subjected to case studies on serial killers that absolutely turn your stomach (Dr. Mengele, anyone?). Plus, how do you fit in all the law and all the interdisciplinary into one course and still manage to get everything covered? Imagine a contracts class that now has to include Posner’s theories of law and economics. One of the things I liked about law school was that I no longer had to zone out to “undergrad” reading assignments that I just breezed through with little, if any, critical analysis because such things won’t help you IRAC any better.
Again, the interdisciplinary approach does sound good because I think its a creative alternative to the curriculum that’s in place now but the new system will have kinks to work out like any other. Good luck to UCI and Dean Chemerinsky.