Bar the bar exam?

Abolish the bar exam or make it optional, writes Ilya Somin on The Volokh Conspiracy.  Let clients decide if they need a lawyer who’s passed the bar or just one who’s completed law school.

If the exam is required, don’t let the state bar association run it, Somin argues. Not unless his modest proposal is adopted:

(State bar officials and bar examiners) should be required to take and pass the bar exam every year by getting the same passing score that they require of ordinary test takers. Any who fail to pass should be immediately dismissed from their positions, and their failure publicly announced (perhaps at a special press conference by the state attorney general).

Few could pass without cramming, he predicts.

. . . (bar exams) test knowledge of thousands of arcane legal rules that only a tiny minority of practicing lawyers ever use. This material isn’t on the exam because you can’t be a competent lawyer if you don’t know it. It’s there so as to make it more difficult to pass, thereby diminishing competition for current bar association members (the people whose representatives, not coincidentally, control the bar exam process in most states – either directly or through their lobbying efforts). Effectively, bar exams screen out potential lawyers who are bad at memorization or who don’t have the time and money to take a bar prep course or spend weeks on exam preparation.

My daughter will take the California bar exam tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday. Fortunately, she’s good at memorization and the law firm that wants to hire her (but not till 2010) paid for a prep course. She’s been studying like a fiend for the last two months. She’s good at taking tests. She was graduated from a challenging law school (University of Chicago). So, she’ll probably do fine. Probably.

One section of the exam asks test takers to apply legal knowledge to a sample case. The rest has nothing to do with practicing law, she says. It’s about memorizing rules you’ll probably never need and can look up if you do.

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