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Is the Bar Exam Getting Less Terrible?


Ugh, the bar exam. After the third year of law school, and closely following law review work, the bar exam is the next biggest drag in a young lawyer’s career. It’s supposed to be a minimum competency test, but making everyone cram the same general legal knowledge, no matter what kind of law they will go on to practice, only to never use this knowledge again, seems rather bizarre.

There are some signs of hope on the horizon, but first …

You Won’t Learn How to Pass the Bar in Law School

You’d think that after three years and about $300k you’d be all set to sit down and rock the bar exam. You’d be wrong. Pretty much no law school prepares its students for the bar exam. In fact, there seems to be this attitude that most law schools are too good to lower themselves to that task. Instead, you’ll have to go to a company specializing in bar exam preparation to get the training you’ll need to pass. This will also set you back about $1,000 to $3,000.

Do Bar Exams Keep Bad Lawyers Out?

Some law schools are having a hard time getting their students to pass the bar. Here are the worst offenders:


One theory is that these schools are simply admitting students that have a very low capacity to pass in the first place—meaning their students have low GPAs and LSAT scores. Another theory is that the bar exam has gotten harder in a lot of places. I’m more persuaded by the former. Admissions standards are fairly low at these schools.

What’s annoying about these schools is they make it seem like the bar exam is doing society a lot of good by keeping A TON of “unqualified” lawyers from harming people with their bad legal services. That makes some sense, but bar exams are so broad in scope that it doesn’t seem likely that only bad lawyers fail them. For the most part, legal work requires hard work and professionalism. What it definitely does not require is a thorough memorization of the actual law. What? Yes! Pretty much all lawyers need to look up the law, save for a few routine matters. But bar exams require memorization of the law, as if that’s part of a lawyer’s job description.

The Uniform Bar Exam Movement

Anyway, I’ll be taking the bar exam in New York State. New York is joining this wonderful new movement called the Uniform Bar Exam. Usually, you have to pass the bar exam in each state you want to practice law. The Uniform Bar Exam does away with that rule for participating states. If you pass the New York bar, but get sick of working in New York City and you want to make a move to, say, North Dakota, now you’ll be free to do so without having to take a separate North Dakota bar exam.

The problem is that only half the states have signed on to the UBE and NY is the only “big player” so far. If you want to make a move from, say, NY to California, you’ll still have to take the California bar exam. It doesn’t matter how long you had been practicing in NY, or how good of a lawyer you are. You’ll have to spend at least a few hardcore weeks cramming for the California bar exam. This makes no sense. To anyone. But here we are.

Shorter Bar Exam in California

California isn’t all bad. Perhaps under pressure by the superiorities of the UBE, or maybe just trying to be less of a drag on society, California is cutting its bar exam from a three-day to a two-day ordeal. This is okay news, but the Golden State could do much better.

I’m looking forward to the day when law school is a three-week course, the bar exam doesn’t exist, and law journals have lost all credibility. But baby steps are okay too … I guess.