When Did Bar Exams Become So Sexy?

I guess you know the bar exam has arrived as a sexy topic when someone makes a movie about it (Bar Exam, The Movie!). I can't imagine anything more boring than watching a bunch of people agonize over the bar exam. Maybe that's because I've taken two myself: California, reputedly the hardest in the country; and Louisiana, definitely the weirdest in the country. Both were trivial exercises compared to my six-hour Property Law exam given by David Currie. Every other exam I've taken was pretty much a cakewalk in comparison, maybe with the exception of Roman Weil's Financial Accounting exam, which... well, let's just say I did a lot better than I thought I had walking out of that exam.

The bar exam is indeed big-stakes stuff. The practice of law is a government-sanctioned cartel, which means you can't go hang out a shingle or print up your business cards if you haven't jumped through a bunch of cartel-required hoops. One of those is the bar exam, meaning you can't legally practice law without passing it and meeting a bunch of moronic and irrelevant continuing education requirements.

Don't believe me? Here are some topics covered by one of California's approved continuing education providers:

  • "How Far So Far? Advances Women Have Made and Continuing Obstacles"
  • "Substance Abuse Prevention, Detection and Treatment Issues"
  • "Prevent Malpractice -- Learn Google"
  • "Dealing With Difficult People"
  • "Overcoming Procrastination: How to Kick the Habit"

What the general public doesn't know is just how low the baseline is for passing and maintaining one's licensing as a lawyer.

Newsflash: the bar exam is not rocket science. I attended a prep course for my first bar exam, and for my second I skipped the lectures entirely and just read the books for the two weeks before the test. I am not a born test-taker (hate those people!), so I assure you I don't have a magical gift when it comes to these tests aside from some baseline level of intelligence, which you can't teach anyway. What you can't do is take it cold, no matter how smart or great a lawyer you are.

Still, the bar exam prep industry is a big one and is dominated by BAR/BRI. The Business Section of today's NYT has a big article about a federal law suit brought against BAR/BRI in federal court in Los Angeles. The article discusses "just how petty and cutthroat the entire bar review market can be."

There's no reason there should be any meaningful barriers to entry in the bar prep market, particularly in the age of the internet. (And sure enough, those online courses exist.) So I don't understand all the caterwauling about big, bad BAR/BRI. If you don't like them, don't give them your money. You have options. Maybe those young lawyers suing BAR/BRI do in fact need that continuing ed course on how to use Google -- it would have taken them all of two seconds to find a competing course.