Posts Tagged ‘bar exam’

A month from now, it’ll be exam time. Not an oral exam — but the July bar exam administered the last week of the month everywhere except for Wisconsin, which has the “diploma privilege.”[1]

For the rest of the states, including the District of Columbia, this year’s May crop of law school graduates will be tested to satisfy “what bar examiners have always posited as the bar exam’s purpose, i.e. minimum competence to practice law unsupervised.”[2]

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/t/taliesin/preview/fldr_2008_11_02/file0001110781475.jpgMeanwhile, law school applications continue to fall.[3] And as law schools vie for a dwindling number of enrollees, some schools are competing for cheeks in the seats by cutting admissions and by lowering admission standards.

Bar exam scores are also plummeting at some schools. So questions are naturally arising on whether falling exam scores are attributable to a decline in law school standards.

Driven in my view mostly by self-preservation, “frustrated law school deans” are suddenly complaining to anyone who will listen about the exam. Their criticism of bar exam methods and mechanics is largely unprecedented. One law school dean went as far as calling the bar exam “an unpredictable and unacceptable impediment for accessibility to the legal profession.” See “Bar Exam, the Standard to Become a Lawyer, Comes Under Fire.”

https://cdn.morguefile.com/imageData/public/files/s/Sgarton/09/l/1379295120ysjr3.jpgNot to be missed, however, is how one school is trying to slow their own nosediving exam scores. Charlotte Law School’s Assistant Dean of Student Success employed four-letter exhortations to her professors serving as bar prep coaches. Straddled with Charlotte’s abysmal bar passage rates, Assistant Dean Odessa Alm admonished the professors to insist on more urgency from their graduates. “We’re not cheerleaders. We’re coaches. ‘Get down on the f***ing floor and give me 40. You’re going to run more laps.’ That’s what a coach is. A coach is not a cheerleader.” See “Recordings Shed Light On Charlotte School Of Law’s Methods To Boost Bar Passage.”

In 2014, with scores falling, the Iowa State Bar Association looked for another remedy. It proposed an in-state “diploma privilege” like its Wisconsin neighbor. But the Iowa Supreme Court closed the door on the proposal opting to keep the bar exam in place. According to one news report, “Critics said it was a way for Iowa law schools to boost enrollment, which has been falling in recent years.” Also see “As schools lower standards, more flunk the Iowa bar.”

And in a step akin to moving the iceberg closer to the Titanic, the American Bar Association (ABA) put law schools on notice last year that it intended to tighten the deadline rule for graduates to pass state bar exams. Yeah, full steam ahead.

According to data compiled by the Internet Legal Research Group, the bottom ten law schools with the worse bar passage rates reflecting first-time test takers for the summer 2014 and winter 2015 bar examinations were:

1. Appalachian School of Law                                 33.3%
2. Thomas Jefferson School of Law                      44.7%
3. Golden Gate University Law School                45.1%
4. Mississippi College                                                 45.8%
5. Whittier Law School                                               45.9%
6. U. of the District of Columbia                             52.2%
7. Liberty University                                                   52.8%
8. Ave Maria School of Law                                      54.4%
9. Arizona Summit Law School                              54.7%
10. Southern University                                              55.8%

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/2/28/Pieter_Codde_-_Young_Scholar_in_His_Study_-_Melancholy_-_WGA05115.jpg/356px-Pieter_Codde_-_Young_Scholar_in_His_Study_-_Melancholy_-_WGA05115.jpgSince the report, life hasn’t gotten any easier for some of the listed schools. Last month, the Los Angeles Times reported that“due in part to low student achievement,” Whittier Law School was closing. And earlier this month, Arizona Summit Law School in Phoenix was put on probation by the ABA after just 24.6 percent of its graduates who took the Arizona state bar exam for the first time in July 2016 passed.

In California, after the state’s bar exam passage score fell to a 32-year low, the deans of 20 California law schools wrote the Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court asking that the minimum or cut score needed to pass its bar examination be lowered to allow a higher pass rate.

In truth, with apologies to John Randolph, the mackerel have been shining and ripening in the moonlight for sometime. Declining law school enrollments; falling admission standards; and collapsing bar passage rates are mere symptoms.

Until the legal establishment makes a substantive, detached, top-to-bottom assessment of what’s ailing the profession, the diagnosis will be incomplete; the medication will be misprescribed; and the patient will remain as sick as ever.



[1]”Under diploma privilege, graduates of the University of Wisconsin Law School and Marquette University Law School are admitted to the practice of law by complying with the terms of SCR 40.03 — their school certifies their legal competence and the Board of Bar Examiners certifies their character and fitness for the practice of law.”

[2]Kristin Booth Glen, Thinking out of the Bar Exam Box: A Proposal to “MacCrate ” Entry to the Profession, 23 Pace L. Rev. 343 (2003)

[3] As of March 31, 2017, the total number of applicants was down 1.9 percent. See Karen Sloan, Number of LSAT Takers is Up, But Law School Applications Are Down, April 7, 2017.

Photo Credits: Oral exam, by Ben Sutherland at Flickr Creative Commons attribution; Quiet Please Testing, morguefile.com; stdy break, by nerissa’s ring at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution; Young Scholar in His Study: Melancholy by Pieter Codde, Wikimedia Commons, public domain; Long-jawed mackerel by Christian Gloor at Flickr Creative Commons Attribution.











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Poster2When I took the bar exam, strategically placed videotape cameras covered virtually every sight-line in the huge convention center room. ID’s were repeatedly checked. Proctors regularly paced the room. Electronic equipment and backpacks were banned. Paranoia was high. Security and sphincters were tight.

We were hunkered down. Gastric juices churned. And sweaty fingers held writing instruments in death-grips. Metaphorically, our noses ground down against grindstones of stress. And fleet-footed minutes chased a relentless clock.

                                                                                                                                                                With such anxiety and with such safeguards, could there possibly be cheating? Unimaginable. Would anyone dare to make an untoward action to place them remotely within reach of being misconstrued a chiseler? Nevertheless, the rules and strictures were there for obvious reasons. These would-be lawyers; hopeful guardians of the rule of law; future ‘officers of the court’ couldn’t be trusted.
                                                                                                                                                         I wondered, “How has it come to this?” How cruelly ironic that aspirants to ‘the honorable noble profession’ are treated as though, at best, they’re visitors to a detention center or, at worse, actual inmates on lock-down. Cavity exam, anyone?
Ethical honor codes and all, maybe, it was just the examiners’ version of Reagan’s “Trust, but verify.” Otherwise, it seemed a misbegotten instance giving credence to that time-worn joke, “The trouble with the legal profession is that 98% of its members give the rest a bad name.” 
                                                                                                                                           Rapacious imbeciles?                                                                                                                                                                            Are some destined to suffer from what Marlow in Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” called “a taint of imbecile rapacity . . . like a whiff of some corpse”? Or is it that “Only cheaters prosper” following Howard Tayler’s 31st Rule in The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries“?
photoBut Tayler’s “Schlock Mercenary” is just a satiric web comic while cheating on a bar exam, especially getting caught – – – has life turning consequences. “This isn’t,” after all about what David Levithan writes in The Lover’s Dictionary, “about slipping yourself an extra $20 of Monopoly Money.”
                                                                                                                                                             So are we “A Nation of Cheaters? Nine years ago, ethicist Kirk O. Hansen prescribed a multi-pronged effort to change the culture that leads to cheating. We’ve got to stop living lives that are so intense, so rushed, so afraid of failure and so surfeit with expectations, that we’re compelled to take shortcuts.
                                                                                                                                                             photoIn 1985, Associate Justice John Todd resigned in Minnesota because of a cheating charge stemming from his ‘confusion’ that Florida’s multistate bar exam was an ‘Open Book’ exam. Say what? Waddaya mean you can’t use reference books to help fill in those little multiple choice circles? Judge Todd was taking the Florida exam because he planned to practice law in the ‘Sunshine State’ on his retirement.
Office Stress 62

But in the tried-and-true manner of hatchet-fleeing employees everywhere, he took a page from the ‘you can’t fire me because I quit’ style book and wrote in his resignation letter to the governor, that he was stepping down because of “attacks on my personal integrity” and not because a three-judge panel had recommended he be unseated for cheating on the test. Also see Todd, In re, 359 N.W.2d 24 (Minn. App., 1984).

And then there was the unforgettable and unbelievable case of In re Lamb (1989) 49 Cal. 3d 239 [260 Cal. Rptr. 856, 776 P.2d 765 concerning California attorney Laura Beth Lamb disbarred in 1989 for impersonating her husband in order to take the bar exam for him. Her husband, Morgan, had already flunked the bar exam once before and lost his job. So she took the test under his name and passed but only too well improving her husband’s score from the bottom 20th percentile to the upper 99th. Needless to say, this raised suspicions. But it was an anonymous tipster that dropped a dime on her, leading to disbarment or Jail in the Bar-Exam Switch. Subsequently divorcing her husband who she claimed had abused and forced her to do it, and also after turning her life around, now Laura Beth Salant was ordered reinstated in 1999.

photoBut oh well, those cheating tales were a long time ago. And as for myself, with the passing years, there’s been little reason to give my own bar exam moments further thought. I passed. I moved on. Except that the other day, I was transported back, occasioned by my emailed receipt of “Adjunct Law Prof Blog: Don’t Cheat On The Bar.”
                                                                                                                                                          The item was about a 2009 New York bar candidate who had appealed a decision arising from the New York Bar Examiners Exam Day References & Security Policy that charged her with misconduct for “copying, or seeking to copy, another candidate’s answers to multiple choice questions during each day of the exam.”  A proctor saw her “craning her neck” more than once and on both days of the exam. See “Woman Cheated on NY Bar Exam, Court Rules.”
                                                                                                                                               Following a hearing, the charges were upheld and her exam was nullified. Unsurprisingly, she also lost her appeal. The decision came down December 29, 2011 in Matter of Dewitt v. NYS Board of Law Examiners. Despite Rose Dewitt’s denials, the testimony of eyewitnesses (three supervisors and a proctor) along with corroborative statistical evidence was enough for the NY Appellate Division to confirm the earlier determination of the New York State Board of Law Examiners.

Poster2Fighting cheating allegations is an uphill battle. Prospects aren’t good. So it’s best not to sample someone else’s cookies or their answers. Better yet, avoid the shortcuts.

Last summer, for example, in an unpublished decision,Valente v. University of Dayton (6th Cir., 2011), after being disciplined for Honor Code violations due to cheating, John Valente sued his law school for breach of contract, negligence, fraud and other torts like intentional infliction of emotional distress. Valente lost on summary judgment. And the 6th Circuit affirmed the lower court on all claims.


Credits:”Monopoly Justice,” by mtsofanvia Flickr Creative Commons-licensed content for noncommercial use requiring attribution and share alike distribution; “07035,” by COCOEN daily photos via Flickr Creative Commons-licensed content for noncommercial use requiring attribution and share alike distribution; “Cheat It Up, Cheatin’ Cheater!,” by Mr_Stein, subtitled, “Cheating Cheaters and the Cheaters Who Love Them Photos of my IDS team members by Travis Begay for our Cheatability presentation.” Via Flickr Creative Commons-licensed content for noncommercial use requiring attribution and share alike distribution.

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