A Future Law Perspective
Dumber Are Getting Lawyers?
That’s the blaring headline along with a full page front cover picture portraying a lawyer who does look a bit on the dumb side in the August 24th –August 30th, 2015 edition of prestigious Bloomberg Business Week. This is a controversial topic being much discussed in the U.S. law school and State Bar Examination Board communities. The most recent cause for its escalation into the business sphere is the release of National Conference of Bar Examinations (NCBE) 2014 test results. The NCBE is a non -profit organization that designs and administers a series of uniform exams that are linked to state bar admissions. You need to pass NCBE exams as one of the steps to qualify for bar admission to 49 of 50 states.
The uniform exam is an exhaustive exercise. It consists of two consecutive six- hour days of tests. The first day is requires writing a series of essays. The second is a series of multiple- choice questions. “Those two days of bubble filling and essay – scribbling are extremely stressful’” according to the article. The abysmal results are summarized as follows in the article. “ Scores on the multiple- choice part of the test registered their largest single drop in the four decade history of the test”
Second tier law schools were identified as prime culprits. The decline in applications to U.S. law schools has allegedly forced law schools not in the coveted elite category to drop the LSAT scores that qualify students for admission. NCBE CEO Erica Moeser has fanned the flames already simmering in the U.S. law school environment that are questioning the extent to which law schools are lowering the bar for admissions and taking in students by equating lower LSAT scores with lack of learning competencies by the current generation of law students. “The implication (according to Moeser): the rest of the people running law schools not named Stanford or Harvard should get used to higher fail rates (on the NCBE exams)”.
The flames, in the opinion of a number of second tier law school deans, have been fanned to forest fire category stage by Ms. Moeser’s prognosis on the adverse impact this will have on the U.S. justice system.
“Moeser says under qualified law grads don’t deserve to pass the bar just because they earned a J.D. Her role, she says, is to protect consumers. Would most people say,’Oh, we ought to lower the standards so we could get more pediatricians? ‘You’d say, ‘Not with my baby, you can’t’, she says.
The decline in law school enrollment isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the legal profession or the public. The law school application frenzy that encouraged law schools to dramatically expand in the pre 2008 financial crash era was driven by cohorts of students wanting access to a career where they could gain entry high five and six figure entry jobs as lawyers catering primarily to the corporate and financial services industries and gravitate to partner status with a seven figure salary. The article points out that now that the “big dollar” legal services market has softened many of these students are eschewing law and opting for “big dollar” degrees in the financial services sector.
These students were arguably strong on promoting their self- interest through a legal career and weak on upholding the public interest in access to justice. Good riddance!
On the other hand, there are indications that the students who are still intent on attending law school are motivated to pursue a professional career that’s linked to the public interest and access to justice while providing them with a comfortable middle class income. I’ve certainly notice in the last three years of consulting with Canadian students interested in attending law school in the UK a marked difference in attitude that’s very healthy for the future of the legal profession. More inquiries are focused on pursuing the UK 2+1 ( LLB/LLM) Combined degree (the UK law school advantage) and integrating law with a social science discipline as a way to open the door to a creative legal and or law related professional career.
Moreover, applications to UK law schools through Canada Law from Abroad have been consistently on the rise for the past five years. They now average 125-150 students going abroad each year. This is proportional to the entry year class size of the smaller Canadian land U.S. law schools.
Of course, one of the draws for UK law schools is non-recognition of the LSAT. Admission is based on a combination of a student’s GPA and personal statement. I routinely manage applications for students with excellent grades and strong personal statements that render them prize candidates for law school and promising aspirants for the legal profession. However, they haven’t obtained that critical score on the dreaded LSAT and are consequently rendered unfit for admission to a Canadian or U.S. law school.
The LSAT has little to do with identifying competency for law school and the legal profession and much to do with creating a systemic barrier that excludes a broad range of candidates from admission. But it does qualify the type of candidate that Ms. Moeser and the NCBE are bemoaning are no longer applying and, by inference, opening the door to the legal profession for “all those other less desirable candidates.”
However, unlike Ms. Moeser and her LSAT compatriots I have the advantage of facilitating all manner and kinds of applicants to top tier law schools, not just whose competencies coincide with LSAT and NCBE criteria. I observe them upon return embark on very successful legal careers, frequently in creative legal and law related professional careers.
What the latest batch of NCBE test results should be interpreted as is a wake up call for the law school and bar admission establishment to blame themselves and not attempt to create victims from a what may well be an emerging cohort who may well be the agents of change so desperately needed to shake up a staid legal profession becoming increasingly part of the problem in the access to justice and corresponding public interest debate.