Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fed Civ Pro on the Bar! Does that make for better lawyers?

Prof. Ben Bratman (Univ. Pittsburgh School of Law) has a piece in today's Wall Street Journal, Reforming the Bar Exam to Produce Better Lawyers, noting that:
This week, thousands of aspiring lawyers -- most of them recent law-school graduates -- are undergoing at least 12 hours of testing in an effort to pass a bar exam and qualify for a law license. But this year's bar exam is unlike any before it. Effective with this week's test, the Multistate Bar Exam, a grueling six-hour, 200-question multiple-choice test that is part of the bar exam in almost every state, becomes even more arduous. It will now test an additional field of law: federal civil procedure, the seventh subject covered on the exam.
The addition will require MBE examinees to memorize even more content, in the form of numerous rules and case precedents. Does that help those examinees become better lawyers? Does it help the legal profession? Does it help the clients and the public that lawyers serve? No. 
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Knowledge of law is not unimportant. But bar examinations are not the only or even the best means to ensure that newly admitted attorneys are familiar with a certain field of law. As a condition of licensure, a state could instead require that new members of the bar take a course on, for example, unique attributes of that state's law. The Missouri Board of Law Examiners has recently adopted this approach. 
The bar exam needs reform, but not the latest kind, which simply adds another subject students must cram into their brains. What it needs is a more sensible balance between testing that primarily requires memorization and testing that requires performance of lawyering skills. That is the reform that will benefit examinees, the legal profession and the public.