For those who think that tests for prospective teachers or maybe improved teacher education is the secret to improved learning experiences for k-12 students, here's a portion of a post that looks at my own profession and heavily criticizes (and with some basis, I might add) both law schools and bar exams. By way of caution, I will add that I recently sat in a meeting with a lawyer I've known since very early in my practice who is extremely bright, hardworking and successful, and who has started teaching his own CLE program for young lawyers because some of what he sees, and the phone calls he gets, scare him to death. He thinks the problem with the market approach is the lives it ruins along the way. I think the same can be said for education. Which, of course, is not to say that we shouldn't work on improving education schools and the requirements for teacher licensure in meaningful ways. But, don't expect them to ever be perfect. It's still going to take continuing education and a different professional culture to get those quality learning experiences for kids. But, with that caution, read on and compare:
It's hard to say which is dumber: the fact that your law school failed to prepare you adequately for the bar exam, or the fact that you have to take such an absurd test at all.
After dropping as much as $100,000 and spending three years obtaining a law degree, you probably don't know enough law to practice it professionally; most law school graduates don't. Now perhaps you're wondering: if the point of law school was not to prepare you for the practice of law, just what was the point of law school? Easy: the point of law school was to make money for the law school. Mission accomplished! Oh, and as a secondary matter, the point of law school was to flatter the egos and delusions of the brainiacs who teach there. And that, young law school graduate, is why you can pontificate at endless length on theories of critical legal deconstructionist realism as touching upon Marxist feminist radical queer Afro-Latino post-structural comparative gender issues, but you still can't write a damn will.
The lasting effect of this cramming? None whatsoever. Law school graduates cram to learn a test, not the law. So I memorized trivia from a dozen different legal subjects, puked out my knowledge in a hot Columbus meeting hall, and passed the bar exam. And I still couldn't write a will.
In principle, the case for certifying lawyers seems as plausible as the case for certifying any other profession. Just as you wouldn't want some Dr. Nick Riviera with a rubber-stamped medical degree carving out your appendix with hedge trimmers, so you wouldn't want some polyester-clad Lionel Hutz with a mail-order law degree and a head full of pine cones defending your DUI case. But do bar exams really weed out the dull and ignorant? The pass rates for bar exams range from 55% (California) to 85% and higher (Utah) -- not exactly Olympic-level competition. And there's no limit to the number of times a law school graduate can sit for bar exams. Any law school graduate without an untreated head wound will pass some bar exam somewhere after enough tries. Unlike scruples and honesty, dullness and ignorance are no impediments to the practice of law. (Humor, young lawyer padawan! Humor will keep the tort reformers at bay!)
Bar exams only test your ability to ingest and regurgitate legal information under stressful conditions. Admittedly, it takes at least a modicum of brains, motivation, and legal knowledge in order to pass. But no legal problem presents itself with multiple-choice answers, and few legal briefs are handwritten in twelve minutes or less. Given the innumerable different problems that lawyers confront, and given the myriad legal specialties that have arisen to resolve those problems, the idea of a single test for all prospective lawyers seems increasingly bizarre.
Rather than test the untestable, why not try the best test of all: the free market? Let would-be attorneys hang out their shingles, and let the public decide who should and should not practice law.
Take heart! Law school may have failed you, but bar exam review courses will make a real lawyer out of you yet.