The Raising the Bar newsletter is dedicated to the exchange of evidence-based ideas about the bar exam, was launched in October 2018 and features distinguished commentaries, recent bar-related publications, information about research grant opportunities for scholars and bar scholarships for students, upcoming conferences with bar-related sessions, Academic Success Program (ASP) and organization program profiles. Please send information for possible inclusion in upcoming issues of Raising the Bar to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Most attorneys recall bar prep as torture and the exam itself as a hazing ritual. I confess, I enjoyed the process. Of course, it was stressful. But, there were distinct positives. First, it was beneficial to comprehensively and simultaneously review multiple subjects previously studied in artificial silos. Client problems do not fall into neat “buckets.” And, while there are noble efforts in the academy to “teach across the curriculum,” much of legal education still lacks connection between subjects. Bar review can be a time to see common threads and interconnected ways of thinking that are necessary to effectively serve clients.
A full six hours of my bar exam was comprised of performance tests—open book, closed universe, skills-based, role-play exams that require applicants to act in a lawyering capacity: demonstrating critical reading, reasoning and writing skills, logically marshalling facts in support of legal arguments/analyses, and producing practice-focused documents. A performance test (“PT”) component has now been adopted by most jurisdictions, though it remains less heavily weighted than essays or multiple-choice questions. Increasing the weight and scope of the PT, and using PTs to test professional responsibility nuances and so-called “soft” as well as “hard” skills, might well enhance the bar exam’s relevance, making the exam a better test of minimum competency to practice law and less a seemingly disconnected rite of passage.
Lastly, knowing that if I had been born in a slightly different place or time I would never have had the right to study law, I felt lucky to attend law school and privileged to sit for the bar. Education generally is a gift too often taken for granted. I see legal education as “a power tool for social change.” To wield this tool, most law graduates must pass a bar exam. And obtaining the license grants a lifetime of potential to do well and do good. So, while future Raising the Bar issues will continue to include thoughtful discussion about bar exam reform, so long as today’s students must pass today’s bar exams, it seems important to at least keep in mind the positives and the (sometimes hidden) silver linings in the bar exam study process.