March 09, 2005

Reexamine Exams

by Armen

Thought I'd note the flurry of discussion about the merits of traditional law school exams with respect to the actual practice of law. It began with an article by Prof. Lubet. Prof. Kerr offered his own thoughts over at VC, and David Kopel added a few words in defense of law school exams. See here, for a comprehensive list of the blogs discussing the matter in some form.

I can't add terribly too much to this aside from, Yeah, so what's the big deal? Was there any illusion that law school actually teaches us how to be a lawyer? Hell, you don't learn the law you're actually going to practice until that BarBri course after graduation. If someone actually Shepardized the casebooks, I bet there'd be a more than acceptable number of yellows and reds. Model Penal Code? It's a model for a reason. The pass/no pass, research/writing/oral advocacy class is the closest thing to actual practice, and even that is about as realistic as Disneyland. Talks by practitioners are worthwhile and give you a glimpse of life past law school, but I suspect most people, like myself, are paying more attention to the dressing used on the salad than the substance of the discussion. Three-hour in-class exam not a realistic reflection of actual practice? Neither is free, unlimited Lexis and Westlaw.

March 9, 2005 03:29 PM | TrackBack

Armen: "Hell, you don't learn the law you're actually going to practice until that BarBri course after graduation."

Not quite. BarBri teaches you what you need to know to pass the bar exam, period. Full stop. Nothing more. If you try to glean more from BarBri, or try to learn too much such that you overthink the bar exam, you will fail, and then you won't get to practice law at all. The key to BarBri is the "play the game" mentality -- learn what you need to pass the exam, do it, and never take it again.

Honestly, you don't really learn much about practicing law until 1) you work during the summer as a judicial extern, clerk, summer associate, etc., 2) you extern during the semester to get practical experience, 3) you take a clinical course in law school, *or* 4) you graduate and actually start practicing. That's just the sad reality of it.

That said, the law school exam model *does* prepare you for the bar exam. Bigtime. And since passing the bar exam is a condition precedent to the practice of law in the United States, it behooves all law students to master the craft of examtaking, wherever they're at.

Posted by: Phillip Carter at March 9, 2005 04:53 PM

I was late for lunch (oil and vinegar for the dressing in case anyone's wondering) so I didn't write the most thought-out post. I think everything you said is true. I just want to clarify that I did not mean to imply that studying for the bar somehow teaches you everything about your actual practice. I simply meant that you learn actual blackletter law of a jurisdiction when you begin to study for the bar (it doesn't end with that, but that's when you really begin to learn the opposed to deciphering Cardozo's opinions).

Posted by: Armen at March 9, 2005 05:16 PM

Law students should not think too far ahead about practising law. Focus on what you are being taught. Just like the music student who goes through endless exercises, the law student learns. Once the music student learns, he then "practices" in public, still learning. After 50 years of practice in the law, I am still learning, and enjoying it. We all sweat the bar exams. It's part of paying your dues. Just do it, as Nancy Reagan would say. It should pay off, whether you go with a large firm, a small firm or solo. The real joy of practising law is doing a good job for a client, a real live person, as opposed to reading appellate decisions in law school. Be patient.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline at March 10, 2005 06:30 AM

wasn't it nike that said "just do it."

i thought nancy basically said, "just don't do it..."

Posted by: japhy at March 10, 2005 10:41 AM

No, what I remember Nancy sayinug was, "Ketchup is a vegetable" (answering the charge that school lunches were not well balanced meals)

Posted by: bob at March 15, 2005 09:58 PM
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