Thursday, December 13, 2012

Wild west

The Arizona Supreme Court has adopted a rule allowing third-year students to take the state's bar exam during February of their third year. Students who exercise this option will get a head start on the job market, since they will be fully licensed attorneys as early as the month after graduation. Plus, imagine having the bar exam already behind you when you walk across the stage to pick up your diploma.

Arizona sweetens the deal still further by offering the Uniform Bar Exam. The UBE is a recent move to recognize that our 50 states are part of a single nation; UBE takers can transfer scores from one participating state to another. So far only ten jurisdictions participate, but many of them are in the West.

Students at Arizona law schools are most likely to take advantage of this new opportunity, but the rule applies to any third-year student. In theory, an Ohio student could take the Arizona bar during February of her third year, gain admission to the Arizona bar in June, and seek employment in any one of the ten states that recognize UBE scores. (Some restrictions apply: States make their own character and fitness determinations, set their own passing scores, and may require additional state-related tests. Please check all local rules.)

One of the most intriguing aspects of this change involves its impact on the third year of law school. The Arizona rule specifies that a law student may not take more than two semester hours of classes "during the month of early bar examination testing and the immediately preceding month." In other words, during January and February the student should be studying for the bar--not taking other law school classes. The student must also be within 8 semester hours of graduation at the time of the February exam.

Law schools that want to support this option, therefore, will have to create a 3L schedule that accommodates 3Ls taking the February bar. What would that schedule look like? I'd like to see schools offer bar review courses to their students during that January and February; I'd probably amend the Arizona rule to award more than just 2 credits for that work. It's shameful that students have to pay extra for commercial bar review courses. Plus, there is pedagogical value to a third-year recap of the basic doctrinal courses. 

That pedagogical value, by the way, would not apply just to the students taking the review courses. The faculty at each institution would have to work together on the review, pushing them to see the core curriculum as a whole. We might discover who actually covers some of those necessary topics. "Presumptions? I thought you did that in Evidence. No, I assumed you handled it in Criminal Law. Maybe it comes up in Constitutional Law or Torts?" 

Schools will also have to create "short courses" to fit the two months between the February bar and graduation. That provides a wonderful opportunity for capstone problem-solving courses, externships, or short clinical rotations.

The early-bar approach puts a few kinks in the third-year schedule that need to be worked out. It's hard, for example, to create a good clinical experience that spans just two months. But if students had a full clinical experience during the fall of the third year, then a review of bar subjects in January and February, I think we could come up with some rewarding experiences during those last two months.

This is a small step, and one that Arizona has endorsed only on a three-year trial basis. But it's the type of experimentation we need and I'm guessing the idea will stick. Imagine: we'd be shortening legal education from seven semesters (3 years in law school and an intense summer of bar study) to just six.

40 comments:

  1. If only having a law license would enhance these poor devils' chances coming out of law school, I would be all for it. If Arizona wanted to be a pioneer, they could have eliminated the 6th semester, thereby, cutting law school to 2 1/2 years and allow the student to study for the bar to take in July. This would help increase the bar passage rate at the risk of reducing revenue. Too bad the greedy law school administrators would never sanction that.

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    1. That is a decision for the ABA, not the Arizona Supreme Court or any of the Arizona law schools.

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    2. If the schools actually cared about students, they'd close.

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  2. I just closed my eyes and tried to imagine the hilarity created by making tenured faculty teach bar review courses.

    Not the actual teaching; I'm sure the professors at any school could talk through a commercial outline. What would be hilarious is the faculty meeting at which it is decided who will be forced to teach these classes. I'd love to bring some popcorn and watch that cage fight.

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    1. How many of them would even be able to teach bar review?

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    2. Conlaw would be the biggest trainwreck. Can you imagine having a bunch of "on the otherhanders" and "policy interest advancers" having to impersonate Scalia and setting forth black and white rules of law?!?

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    3. I don't get these comments. My BarBri classes were taught, by and large, by tenured profs (who profited handsomely for doing so, by the way).

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  3. I am a graduate of UCONN's criminal law clinic. I learned a tremendous amount from this experience. However, it is difficult to have a meaningful court based clinical experience in less then two semesters, when you typically have a court date for a case only once a month. We would take in most of our cases during the early fall, and resolve most the next spring or even later. (I was allowed to continue with mine after I finished the clinic for purposes of continuity) Similarly in a civil litigation clinic, the wheels of justice move slowly, and a student needs more then three months to be exposed to a diverse series of motions and proceedings while working on the same case. Squeesing many law school clinical experiences into a one to two month time period will not produce an adequately educated student.

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  4. At CU they let you graduate in 2 1/2 years. Then you can take any Feb bar you want. All schools should allow this option.

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  5. Thanks for the update, DJM. It's nice to see individuals in the legal field up for experimenting and change in order to improve what desperately needs to be improved. I also was pleasantly surprised to see that the UBE has been adopted in 10 states in such a short time! Definitely progress. Who knows, maybe in a just a few short years we will all be freed from taking 10 bar exams just to make a living!

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  6. I wouldn't particularly want to live in any of those ten jurisdictions.

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    1. Washington isn't bad and Utah must have some jobs.

      Of course, when seeking employment in those states, most people will need to prove TIES. Moving across country from Ohio and taking the bar early in Arizona isn't going to convince anyone in a state like Alabama (where interviewers ask where you went to high school) or anywhere else really that you intend to stay. Doesn't Utah favor local BYU kids the most? Could an Ohio grad who took the bar in Arizona convince someone from Utah to hire them? Are those students prospects any better than staying in Ohio and waiting an extra few months for the bar?



      (that is assuming they can get admitted in those states, which they probably can except for some residency requirements, if any apply)

      Of course I mostly know about the biglaw market. E

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    2. Here is the list of states:
      Alabama (July 2011)
      Arizona (July 2012)
      Colorado (February 2012)
      Idaho (February 2012)
      Missouri (February 2011)
      Montana (July 2013)
      Nebraska (February 2013)
      North Dakota (February 2011)
      Utah (February 2013)
      Washington (July 2013)

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    3. I can see a slight benefit here for the kid who goes to lawprof's school and can take the bar early in Arizons if they have a job lined up already.

      That people could move from a regional law school to one of these states via Arizona doesn't make sense to me given the state of legal hiring.

      Anything that adds to the illusion that going to law school is a good idea is a problem from my point of view.

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    4. They probably want only Mor(m)ons in Utah.

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    5. I have to say that the UBE feels somewhat like a punch to the gut. I don't mind reforms obviously, this whole system is pretty disgusting. But graduating in 2009 and having passed two bar exams (and won't be getting a legal job in CO now that I made the move voluntarily) it kind of continues to feel (with news like this) like those already screwed by the system will only see their timing as worse and worse.

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  7. This idea was proposed months (year[s]?) earlier, and only now has been approved by the Arizona Supreme Court. I recall reading about it a month or two ago, and noting that there was some significant pushback from people in the Arizona bar for various reasons. It would be interesting to deconstruct this pushback.

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  8. To @9:22 pm: I graduated from a different school, also in 2 1/2 years. This was several years ago, but I know that it has now become even easier to graduate early, at least at my old school. A lot of the followers of this blog complain that law school is too long -- and it is -- so why they would then take three years to graduate is baffling. I suspect that in many cases, it's just lack of planning. (Probably the same lack of planning and "flying blind" that lands some people into law school in the first place.) I figured out after the first semester there was no reason to hang around for the full three years; I looked into early graduation immediately. It saved me a lot of money, too, even at the much lower tuition rates in place back then.

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    1. To @1:57 pm. I did the same as you. Most people didn't want to leave early. With all the Barrister's Balls, school sponcored drinking, and wedding planning, they didn't have the interest. Don't get me wrong, heavy drinking is necessary in both law school and in later practice.

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  9. Isn't it still better to not go to law school at all? Esp. to a school in Arizona which has almost no legal industry? Wont the students still have to pay full tuition for only taking a part time load?

    This might be a good idea from the theoretical prospective of how schools can surive, but it does nothing to address the difficulty of finding a job even after you have a law license.

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  11. the problem with law school is law school. It doesn't teach you to be a lawyer. A graduate of a modern American law school is a dangerous walking malpractice machine. The fact that he can identify competing interests in the efficient breach theory of contracts notwithstanding, he knows zilch about serving and advocating for clients, drafting, avoiding pitfalls in contracts, etc.

    I was very surprised in my contracts class when the end came, and we never had seen a contract. We'd seen clauses, etc., but no full contract. Same complaint about property. What's a deed look like? If recording is important, how do you do it?

    I think the faculty were unqualified to teach others to practice. There's a reason that most CLEs are taught by practitioners: because real lawyers want to learn how to do things for clients, not ethereal bullshit.

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  12. Paralyzed by debt, paralyzed by the fact that if I want to move I have to take another grueling thousand dollar exam. This "profession" s-cks.

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  13. Generally speaking, Engineers have only been required one test for something valid for comity in all 50 states for years. Beyond that you still have to apply with references and other background stuff, but you don't need to take another test (except state specific, like seismic on the Pacific Rim).

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    1. I understand you to be talking about the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE - which for a few years in the 90s was renamed the "EIT" (Engineer In Training), which everyone (me included) despised, then renamed again the FE).

      But there is a big difference here. To work as a lawyer, you must have passed a bar exam.

      But for the most part, you can get work as an engineer without ever bothering to take the FE. Does it help you get hired? Certainly. And if you eventually want to obtain PE designation and strike out on your own, you must have passed the FE (and worked under a registered PE for 5 years, etc.).

      But if all you want to do is work for someone else as an engineer (which frankly is what most of us do), then you don't actually need to have taken any certification exam.

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  14. Donald Duc Is A-Quackin`December 14, 2012 at 6:45 AM

    Dean Donald Duc is a-quackin' over at Cooley, complainin' that the MI Bar exam is just too danged HARD, people. It's just not FAIR, people.


    http://www.cooley.edu/commentary/are_the_bar_results_for_real.html

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    1. Well, golly, he must be right if that many students at the US's #2 law school (Cooley—by its own "ranking") are failing the test.

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  15. Gee, that's just swell, DJM. But guess what? There's still too many law schools. Any "reform" that doesn't DIRECTLY address the vast oversupply of graduating JDs is just self-serving noise. No doubt AZ law schools will use this program as a marketing tool to differentiate themselves from the competition and lure more lemmings into signing the dotted line. Most of whom will still graduate without jobs... but hey, they'll be admitted to the bar!

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    1. On a related note, the Boston Globe website has a slideshow listing salaries among Boston-area college CEOs... er, I mean "presidents."

      Don't view this too soon after eating...

      http://www.boston.com/yourtown/2012/12/10/how-much-does-president-make-ranking-salaries/4z0PzKzIVMSat5DnHBAKBI/story.html

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    2. 7:23 here, meant to link to the comment at 7:01 below...

      Delete
  16. Big article in NYT about higher ed getting so deep in debt with construction projects, trying to boost ratings, then ultimately passing along costs to students.

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  17. I'm a huge DJM fan and appreciate her desire to bring us some news of good cheer during this holiday season. But the bottom line is that this proposal is nothing more than the proverbial "shuffling of deck chairs on the Titanic". The problem is this: there are very few jobs out there that justify the law school debtload. The overwhelming majority of those "good" jobs are in biglaw. Unless something has changed very very recently, biglaw hiring takes place during 2L fall OCI. so if you struck out at OCI or got no-offered - how does this proposal help you? you can't go back to the biglaw firms during 3L and wave around your bar card.

    I think there is a lingering assumption among boomers (God bless 'em, both DJM and Campos are boomers but I love them anyway) that job prospects suddenly increase the day you get the bar card - nothing could be further from the truth

    Having said all that I will concede that this idea is great if it puts a chink in the armor of the useless 3L year - there is absolutely no reason for law school to go beyond 2 years - even the 2nd year was of dubious utility, but a case can be made for it.

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    1. This is correct. The jobs are gone. Joining the bar in one's desired jurisdiction, never mind some distant one chosen only for reasons of expediency, isn't going to help. It's all over before it has even begun.

      I wish that I had never come to law school. What a hell-begotten racket! And I'm one of the very few "successful" students whom every professor loves. (With the exception of that bitch whose postmodernist codswallop I demolished in front of the class.)

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  18. "Students who exercise this option will get a head start on the job market, since they will be fully licensed attorneys as early as the month after graduation."

    LawProf, there are few to no jobs for baby lawyers in Arizona. I think what you meant to say is, "Students who exercise this option will get a head start on their solo practices."

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    1. Very stupid. People like you befoul a good blog

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  20. Reform is going to come from the state bars. Earlier testing, lowering passage rates, even mandatory pro bono are at least attempts by states to do something.

    It won't come from anywhere else. The ABA serves big law, the law schools serve law professors, and federal officials won't do anything to alienate the former groups, who are their friends and donors.

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  21. As a May 2012 law grad from one of Arizona's law schools, I think allowing 3Ls to take the bar in the Spring of their final semester is a great thing that could help blunt the financial blow of law school debt a little bit.

    Letting a 3L take the bar would allow the law grad to potentially pass the bar and get sworn into the state bar almost immediately upon graduation. From there, the recent grad could start working as an attorney -- or more competitively apply for jobs that require bar passage -- immediately. Under the current system of taking the July Bar, you don't get your bar card in Arizona until late October, at the earliest. The new system could eliminate that damn 5 month wait between graduation and getting licensed to practice law.

    On the other hand, I can't imagine what second semester as a 3L would be like after taking the bar in February and then coming back for classes. Most people are really burnt out after studying for the bar and taking it. I would imagine that law schools would see class attendance and engagement plummet by 3Ls post-bar.

    But even worse, I think that returning 3Ls would have a hard time adjusting to Socratic method teaching. Barbri, despite all its flaws, is kind of an eyeopener once you realize "wow, why didn't my Contracts professor teach me all of this important black letter law." I could imagine 3Ls sitting in a class and telling the professor, "I don't care about the history/public policy behind that issue, just give me stupid rule."

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