Bar Exam Process in Question
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 01:10
In response to a recent decrease in law school applications and a rise in student debt, a task force from the American Bar Association has called for drastic changes to the U.S. legal education system.
In particular, the task force has proposed allowing people without college or law degrees to take the bar exam and to provide limited legal services, raising the question about the value of a three-year law education. The task force’s report, which is still in draft form, will influence law schools and state bar associations but is not a legally-binding document.
Georgetown University Law Center Dean of Admissions Andrew Cornblatt expressed concern about the report’s potential repercussions on law schools.
“There would be huge financial implications, huge,” Cornblatt said. “You’d lose one-third of your student body, so, you know, do the math.”
In addition, the proposal will cause a massive influx of practicing lawyers into the market, exacerbating a job market for law school graduates that is already faced with a massive surplus of able workers. According to the National Law Journal, members of the Class of 2012 only had a 56 percent chance of obtaining a job within nine months of receiving a degree, a trend that has stayed the same over the last three years.
“It’s interesting to me that they’re trying to encourage, it seems, almost more people to go to law school, which I don’t know is necessarily a good thing,” Ashley Kempczynski (LAW ’15) said.
The task force argues that if a law degree were no longer a prerequisite for the bar exam, potential lawyers would be free from the pressure of repaying enormous student loans. Ideally, this would allow more lawyers to consider providing low-price services to members of lower-income populations.
Nevertheless, Kevin Barber (LAW ’14), who is facing $160,000 in student debt, expressed concern about unqualified board-certified lawyers.
“It would change the market for law, but I think there would be quality control issues,” said Barber, a former editor-in-chief of The Hoya. “I’m in support of experimentation as long as it’s done in a careful and deliberate way.”
Criminal defense attorney Plato Cacheris (SFS ’53, LAW ’56) agreed and said he believed that attorneys with law school backgrounds possessed advantages over those who simply passed the bar. According to Cacheris, law school allowed him to develop skills such as courtroom procedure and the preparation of appeals, which he said cannot be learned through a book alone.
“I think [law school is necessary] for a person who wanted to be an accomplished lawyer, a well-rounded lawyer, because it offers you more help,” Cacheris said.
This report follows President Barack Obama’s comment in August about reducing the time spent in law school from three years to two years, allowing students to use the third year for hands-on work. Law schools have often been criticized for their emphasis on the classroom while disregarding real-world experience; current standards require students to fulfill a minimum of 45,000 classroom minutes, and paid field work does not count toward this goal.
Although the report did not specifically address Obama’s suggestion, it called for the elimination of the current classroom minutes requirement.
Overall, Cornblatt said that this is just the latest step in a long-term developmental process for law schools around the country.
“Top law schools are taking a good, hard inner look at how we do our business,” Cornblatt said. “Should there be more practical courses as opposed to more theoretical classes? Should law school be squeezed to two-and-a-half years? … There is a huge amount of conversation going on.”