The bar exam, a lawyer shortage, Suits, and a few thoughts on leaked essay topics.

Vermont’s administration of the Uniform Bar Exam begins today.  76 aspiring lawyers will gather at a hotel in Burlington.  As made clear by this piece that ran on WCAX yesterday, we need a lot of them not only to pass, but to stay in Vermont.

If you weren’t aware, Vermont switched to the Uniform Bar Exam in 2016.  Today, the examinees will tackle the Multistate Performance Test and Multistate Essay Examination.  Then, tomorrow, one of the last bastions of the #2 pencil takes center stage: the Multistate Bar Examination, aka “the multiple choice.”

I went into the nuts & bolts of the Uniform Bar Exam in more details in this post.   Also, last February, I posted this Q&A with the examiners.  Finally, talk about a bizarre situation: this past weekend, California bar authorities discovered that the essay topics might have been inadvertently revealed.  So, as I blogged here, they sent an email to all examinees informing them what the essay topics would be.

I understand that there was no good solution.  Logistically, it was far too late to postpone the exam or draft new questions.  Sharing the topics with everyone was likely the best way to level the playing field.

A gut reaction might be “it’d be great to know the topics!” I’m not so sure.

For instance, my personal choice would have been to get my studying done by last Friday, then take the weekend to rest, relax, and get my mind right for the exam.  I’d likely not have had the discipline – or courage – to stick to my approach if, on Saturday, I’d learned what the essay topics would be.  Rather, I’d likely have felt compelled to study them, even if I’d already done enough preparation on each over the past few months.

And what about the examinee who takes my approach and then got off the grid for the weekend?

Also, the essays are intended to distinguish examinees from each other.  For many years, I graded bar exams.  In my experience, some were fantastic, some awful, and the vast majority in the vast middle. It’s difficult to perceive and assign a distinction between the many that are solidly average.  I wonder whether the fact that all examinees know the topics will result in essays that are even more difficult to differentiate than in a normal year.

Finally, I look forward to the day when we have a full-fledged discussion as to whether a two-day test is the best way to determine who gets a ticket to practice law.  Maybe it’s the Mike Ross in me.  Or, maybe it’s the fact that we have evidence – albeit in an infinitesimal sample size – that success (or a lack thereof) on the bar exam is not necessarily the only predictor of competence.

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One thought on “The bar exam, a lawyer shortage, Suits, and a few thoughts on leaked essay topics.

  1. When I was getting ready to take the bar exam in Michigan forty years ago I was riding down to Lansing with another guy who was also working at Legal Aid of Western Michigan, whom I knew slightly from law school. He had taken a bar review course, while I relied on reviewing the materials from a previous year’s bar review course from Illinois, I think. This meant that he knew something I didn’t know, which was that Michigan had recently adopted the Uniform Probate Code and the test was going to be graded using either the UPC or the preexisting Michigan statute.

    Because Michigan had a system whereby if you got a certain score on the Multistate, what I was really wishing was that they would give the Multistate on the first day, fly the answer sheets down to Princeton overnight, and then announce at the beginning of the second day that the following test takers have passed and are free to leave.

    Funnily enough, that’s not how they did it.

    I’m still glad I don’t have to take another one.

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