July 13, 2010

All the best people fail the bar exam... Elizabeth Wurtzel says.

And she's among the people she's talking about:
The common denominator among the bar-failers in my class at Yale Law School—and there were a few—was a complete inability to comply with senseless rules; they weren’t the best students, but they were the tartest and the sharpest people—and the least likely to accept the constraints of Big Law that make neither financial nor intellectual sense: the fifty-state survey to prove a negative, the memo to nowhere, the repetitive brief that says nothing and gets read by no one.
Hey! That's one sentence. It's got 3 dashes, a semicolon, 3 commas, and a colon. Let me step back from the big meta- critique and extrapolate one easily followed item of advice: Write short sentences! Human beings grade bar exam essays. I have graded bar exam essays. It's hell. I was trapped in a hotel conference room and not allowed to leave until I'd graded a pile of exams that, as a lawprof, I'd take a couple weeks to grade (with refreshing breaks for snacks and walks and blog posts).

Wurtzel goes on to claim that the practice of law would be better if the sharp, tart folks who resist senseless rules had the advantage in seeking access to the profession.  Imagine the access ritual that would vault them to the front of the line. I would try to do that for you right now if I weren't distracted by thinking that writers of short sentences are the ones to be encouraged. Don't write a long sentence unless you have a good reason. And don't use a semicolon unless you'd be willing to pay $5 for the privilege of using a semicolon. Each time. That's just a test I made up. Now, stop annoying me. And don't make things more difficult than they need to be. That's a rule. It's not a senseless one. It is a rule brimming with sensibility.

107 comments:

bagoh20 said...

Our mayor here in L.A. failed the bar 4 times and we are very proud. Not because he failed, but because it shows how open minded we are as voters.

danielle said...

i agree, that's a terrible sentence. she'd do well to stop and gather her thoughts. that's exactly what the period offers to the writer and the reader.

MadisonMan said...

Shorter 1st sentence: We failed but we're fabulous.

Kevin said...

The Mayor of Chicago only flunked twice!

More to the point, Elizabeth Wurtzel has flunked twice, so obviously the exam has no meaning!

Actually, it is nice to have one institution that is actually so uncorrupt that it refused to pass Richard M. Daley (then the son of the Mayor) twice (in Illinois!). I think it the lack of corruption Wurtzel objects to - obviously, as an artsy Manhattanite trendy, she should have gotten an automatic pass.

Jake said...

I just looked at her picture at the above link. Man, is she one hot law babe. What was your point again Ann?

EDH said...

The sentence is long because she's wants to make it sound like it's not just about her, when it is all about her. Notice how she uses "they" when she should use "we."

As punishment, she should recite the Rule Against Perpetuities, in perpetuity.

t-man/wurly/henry buck said...

You know, that is exactly what I'm looking for in a lawyer, a person with a complete inability to comply with "senseless" rules. Tell it to the judge, or the SEC, FCC, DOJ, Federal Reserve, EPA, OSHA, EEOC, Medicare compliance officers...

Geesh, and these people want to impose more and more rules on the rest of us who aren't so brilliant but have to follow them anyway.

t-man/wurly/henry buck said...

Also, the bar exam that I took had very little to do with "rules" and was more focused on (1) multiple choice questions testing knowledge of legal concepts; and (2) issue spotting.

Joe said...

I disagree with one of your basic points, Professor, and my point is made in your text. Your blog almost never reads as if it's a natural conversation; the sentence structure is far too clipped.

There's a clear reason too. It's the obvious lack of semi-colons.

Joe said...

Jake, she's not teh hawt....she teh KRAZEE...sure she might be nice for one night, but then she'd probably go all Fatal Attraction on you...

A result of the "Everyone Gets a Trophy" Syndrome...she and people like her DESERVE their trophy, becuase they're "Special," too.

Fred4Pres said...

Other than the small minority who just freak out about the test, could it be that people fail bar exams because they did not study?

TosaGuy said...

When I have paid for a lawyer, I have paid for that person to find and observe all the "senseless" rules and laws. If that were not the case, what is the reason for most lawyers?

Lucius said...

I would have thought that the people who understand the constraints of the law, and are willing to work within that framework, would be the people who make the most effective lawyers.

But based on no evidence at all, this writer asserts it's those who possess the highest self-esteem!
4 out of 5 congresscritters agree:
Rules only apply to those of us less blessed with ego.

Fred4Pres said...

Do all the best people commit plagiarism too? Or just get caught at it like Wurtzel did when she worked for the Dallas Morning News (she got fired for that). Or for pretending she was an attorney when she had not yet passed any bar.

Although I will give her this, she is right about antisemitism in Europe. Although it does not take being a lawyer to recognize that.

Skyler said...

It seems to me that the field of law is probably unique in that it gives so much voice to people who are neophytes or less.

I read Wurtzel's childish rant and couldn't help but think that she is a fool to think that because she failed the bar exam that it must be proof that the smartest people don't excel on the bar. Let me expand that adjective. Not only is she a fool, but a very self-centered one as well.

The bar exam is very difficult. It can certainly be improved. I think it is an odd sort of logic to cnclude that the smartest fail the test since she failed it. What an ego.

It's certainly no terrible stain to fail the bar exam. Note that almost all of her examples do eventually pass it. Thus they are capable of doing so. Perhaps they and she should have just studied better the first time and spare us her whining.

Sheepman said...

The bar exam is mostly an endurance test. Both in the studying for and the taking of the exam.

Rick said...

I taught writing to first year students (aka freshmen) at Cornell for a year. Plus my major professor belongs to the "keep it short and simple" school of academic writing and passed that along to his students. I agree with you. I have proofread several dissertations. I am amazed at what people think constitutes good "academic" writing style. Passive and/or nominalized verbs, long convoluted sentences, adverbial phrases stuck at the beginning of every bleeping sentences, excessive use of unnecessary commas - it's unreal. Good academic writing is clear, simple, and comprehensible. And for the record I think using the 1st person pronoun is perfectly acceptable.

t-man/wurly/henry buck said...

I actually found the bar exam to be pretty easy.

I think the only people who actually fail are those (1) who are at the very bottom of the cohort in legal ability and (2) people who think they are far smarter than they really are.

Prosqtor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Palladian said...

Yes because he never did a thing like that before as ask to get his breakfast in bed with a couple of eggs since the City arms hotel when he used to be pretending to be laid up with a sick voice doing his highness to make himself interesting to that old faggot Mrs Riordan that he thought he had a great leg of and she never left us a farthing all for masses for herself and her soul greatest miser ever was actually afraid to lay out 4d for her methylated spirit telling me all her ailments she had too much old chat in her about politics and earthquakes and the end of the world let us have a bit of fun first God help the world if all the women were her sort down on bathing-suits and lownecks of course nobody wanted her to wear I suppose she was pious because no man would look at her twice I hope I'll never be like her a wonder she didnt want us to cover our faces but she was a welleducated woman certainly and her gabby talk about Mr Riordan here and Mr Riordan there I suppose he was glad to get shut of her and her dog smelling my fur and always edging to get up under my petticoats especially then still I like that in him polite to old women like that and waiters and beggars too hes not proud out of nothing but not always if ever he got anything really serious the matter with him its much better for them go into a hospital where everything is clean but I suppose Id have to dring it into him for a month yes and then wed have a hospital nurse next thing on the carpet have him staying there till they throw him ...

Prosqtor said...

Your post made me laugh out loud. My Freshman Comp. professor taught me to use short sentences. However, my law review competition essay was described as "sleep inducing" by the tie-breaking grader. I blame short sentences.

DADvocate said...

they weren’t the best students, but they were the tartest and the sharpest people

Yeah, right. That's why they failed the bar. Just the sort of logic an under performer likes to use. Sure, they're plenty of sharp lawyers who flunked the bar on the first try, but not all who flunked are among the tartest and sharpest.

In the mid-1970s, everyone in my sister's graduating class from the University of Tennessee law school passed the bar on the first try. The first time that had ever happened there, and maybe the only. (Ask Glenn Reynolds, he might know.) Who was the tartest and sharpest amongst them? Were they inferior to every other graduating class?

The importance of short sentences can't be overestimated. In journalism I was taught to keep paragraphs to 35-45 words and 3-4 sentences max. Better readability and fewer grammatical errors.

d-day said...

Well of course SHE thinks the rules are senseless - she didn't understand them.

Henry said...

Shorter 1st sentence: We failed but we're fabulous.

I bet we could rewrite that one paragraph in three sentences. Here's my submission:

(1) Glib means smart to me.
(2) Tests are stupid.
(3) That's my excuse.

t-man/wurly/henry buck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donna B. said...

I think Wurtzel is quite capable of having studied really hard for the bar exam and failing it. She'd just like you to think it's because she didn't study.

t-man/wurly/henry buck said...

Palladian -

Thanks for bringing to mind the great scene between Salley Kellerman and Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School.

wv: smenita - a latin drink with an unspeakable secret ingredient

Palladian said...

Sans honneur que précaire, sans liberté que provisoire, jusqu’à la découverte du crime; sans situation qu’instable, comme pour le poète la veille fêté dans tous les salons, applaudi dans tous les théâtres de Londres, chassé le lendemain de tous les garnis sans pouvoir trouver un oreiller où reposer sa tête, tournant la meule comme Samson et disant comme lui: «Les deux sexes mourront chacun de son côté»; exclus même, hors les jours de grande infortune où le plus grand nombre se rallie autour de la victime, comme les Juifs autour de Dreyfus, de la sympathie—parfois de la société—de leurs semblables, auxquels ils donnent le dégoût de voir ce qu’ils sont, dépeint dans un miroir qui, ne les flattant plus, accuse toutes les tares qu’ils n’avaient pas voulu remarquer chez eux-mêmes et qui leur fait comprendre que ce qu’ils appelaient leur amour (et à quoi, en jouant sur le mot, ils avaient, par sens social, annexé tout ce que la poésie, la peinture, la musique, la chevalerie, l’ascétisme, ont pu ajouter à l’amour) découle non d’un idéal de beauté qu’ils ont élu, mais d’une maladie inguérissable; comme les Juifs encore (sauf quelques-uns qui ne veulent fréquenter que ceux de leur race, ont toujours à la bouche les mots rituels et les plaisanteries consacrées) se fuyant les uns les autres, recherchant ceux qui leur sont le plus opposés, qui ne veulent pas d’eux, pardonnant leurs rebuffades, s’enivrant de leurs complaisances; mais aussi rassemblés à leurs pareils par l’ostracisme qui les frappe, l’opprobre où ils sont tombés, ayant fini par prendre, par une persécution semblable à celle d’Israël, les caractères physiques et moraux d’une race, parfois beaux, souvent affreux, trouvant (malgré toutes les moqueries dont celui qui, plus mêlé, mieux assimilé à la race adverse, est relativement, en apparence, le moins inverti, accable qui l’est demeuré davantage) une détente dans la fréquentation de leurs semblables, et même un appui dans leur existence, si bien que, tout en niant qu’ils soient une race ...

MadisonMan said...

Yes! This scene!

Brad said...

There is no excuse for failing the bar exam. It isn't a measure of intelligence as much as a measure of preparation. I person who fails to prepare for one of the biggest career hurdles of her life is not someone that I would want representing me in litigation. Preparation is everything.

Kirstin said...

John F. Kennedy Jr. failed the bar exam two times.

I thought that studying for and taking the bar exam was grueling. If I hadn't passed on my first attempt, I might not have taken it again.

rhhardin said...

[Flights of starlings have a way of flying which is theirs alone and seems as governed by uniform and regular tactics as a disciplined regiment would be, obeying a single leader's voice with precision.] The starlings obey the voice of instinct, and their instinct leads them to bunch into the centre of the squad, while the speed of their flight bears them constantly beyond it; so that this multitude of birds thus united by a common tendency towards the same magnetic point, unceasingly coming and going, circulating and crisscrossing in all directions, forms a sort of highly agitated whirlpool whose whole mass, without following a fixed course seems to have a general wheeling movement round itself resulting from the particular circulatory motions appropriate to each of its parts, and whose centre, perpetually tending to expand but continually compressed, pushed back by the contrary stress of the surrounding lines bearing upon it, is constantly denser than any of these lines, which are themselves the denser the nearer they are to the centre. [Despite this strange way of swirling, the starlings cleave through the ambient air at no less rare a speed and each second make precious, appreciable headway towards the end of their hardships and the goal of their pilgrimage.]

- Lautreamont

Edgehopper said...

The bar exam should be changed--it's neither hard nor relevant enough (most top students pass it with nothing more than their summer bar review course), and state bars often test stuff that maybe 5% of the lawyers there need to know.

I'd suggest a series of topical federal bar exams for people planning to specialize in federal areas of law. It makes very little sense that I, a New York admitted attorney, would have to take California's bar exam to go there and practice patent law (and it also makes very little sense that a general litigator admitted in the state of New York can go to the SDNY and litigate a patent case, knowing nothing about the subject).

But it shouldn't be changed because a ditz like Wurtzel couldn't figure it out.

ErnieG said...

Yes, Palladian, but Joyce and Proust never had to sit for the bar exam. I can, however, imagine some lawyers writing thirty pages of small print describing lying in bed through a sleepless night, particularly if their billing meters were running.

lemondog said...

One should aim not at being possible to understand, but at being impossible to misunderstand.
--Quintilian

rhhardin said...

Credential and credenza come from the same root, ML credentia.

Her pure nails sprung up exalting their onyx,
Anxiety, this midnight, bearing light, sustains,
In twilight many dreams burnt up by the Phoenix
Whose smoky ashes no sepulchral urn contains.

Atop the credenza, in the empty room: no ptyx,
That voided toy of vibrant nonsense, left inside,
(Because the Master’s gone to draw the tears from Styx
With that exclusive object wherein Naught takes pride.)

Chip Ahoy said...

I reject your jihad agains the semicolon; here's why: Stronger than a coma but weaker than a colon, it possesses usefulness; its own niche. But for the sake of consistency, since you insist on holding to this unreasonable semicolonphobia, then you must even more despise the letter "c"; which does nothing but confuse matters where "s" and "k" do the work of their respective consonants perfectly well.

Class factotum said...

some of history’s leading legal lights have failed....But, Wurtzel continues, the failures of Sullivan and others, including Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Franklin Roosevelt and Benjamin Cardozo, haven’t done away with the exam.

Citing Michelle Obama as a "leading legal light" does not help her argument.

holdfast said...

People who fail the bar exam are either stupid, lazy or just test extremely poorly due to stress.

None of those are really great traits in an attorney.

MadisonMan said...

Would that be Ship Ahoy of Khip Ahoy, then?

bagoh20 said...

Does this work for other professions: doctors, dentists, architects, accountants, etc; or is law special?

HDHouse said...

ahhh law school..where all the girls are beautiful and all the men are above average.

Martha said...

Elizabeth is no longer the beauty depicted in that photo---the ravages of aging have unfortunately caught up with her.
As for being one of the sharpest---if LSAT score is any indication of intelligence, Wurtzel's LSAT was one of the lowest at Yale Law School.

John Lynch said...

Yeah, you see how ridiculous this line of reasoning is if you apply it to other professions.

The best accountants fail the CPA exam? Really?

I suppose you can make the argument that the bar exam doesn't accurately predict who will be a good lawyer. But I don't see why the smartest people would fail the exam. It's a test. Smart people can study for tests. Even if the test is a bad one, it should still reward smart people disproportionally.

Quayle said...

My favorite part of the Texas bar exam was the oil and natural gas law essay questions during day 3.

Hum, I can't quite remember if the railroad commission must be notified when a land owner discovers an abandoned uncapped well.

Amartel said...

Elizabeth the Tart is a special and unique snowflake. She has gone out of her way to help you to recognize that fact. How dare you object to her special and unique snowflake sentence formation! Rude!

traditionalguy said...

The motto that I say to my staff is that most of the law practice is a simple activity that the untrained cannot do correctly. That is why they hire us. So we had better do it correctly, or they will figure out that they don't need us. The world does not need lawyers that are untrained and sloppy...no matter how sharp their personalities are.

PatHMV said...

One lawyer I know once told me that every law firm needed one really smart lawyer. Just one, but you needed the one. If you have too many, then all the work gets bogged down by the wonderful creative processes going on as everybody tries to invent an even better wheel with every single case they handle. But if you don't have the one, then when something really unusual turns up, you don't have anybody to turn to to think outside of the box.

I'm generally the "smart lawyer" in my office. I'm really good at some kinds of tasks, and really bad at others. I am NOT good at some of the tasks that Wurtzel describes, like doing the "fifty-state survey to prove a negative."

The difference, I think, between me and her, however, is that I recognize that it takes all sorts of people to make the world go 'round, and the fact that I excel in some areas but am weak in others does not make me "better" than the others. The law review cite-checker perfectionist and I have very different skill sets, and both skill sets are exceedingly important in the workings of a law firm, when properly paired. Possessing one of the skill sets does not make you "better" or "worse" a lawyer than possessing the other skill set.

Christy said...

Fine example of the superior intellect and reasoning skills of our betters.

"Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal. R. A. Heinlein

blake said...

Actually, it has two em-dashes and a hyphen.

I'd say the hyphen isn't her fault but I don't think it's necessary between "fity" and "state".

As for em-dashes and semi-colons, I am the king—nay, the Alpha and the Obama—of interrupting long sentences and weakly connecting them without resorting to subordinating conjunctions; I shan't apologize.

Richard Dolan said...

"I reject your jihad agains the semicolon ..."

It was more fatwa than jihad anyway.

Pogo said...

It was a dark and stormy bar exam; the questions fell in wasteful torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of senseless rules which swept up the tartest and the sharpest people (for it is after Law school that our scene lies), throwing to the Yalies the complete waste of effort that is its licensing ritual, both empty and painful; the memo to nowhere, the repetitive brief that says nothing and gets read by no one; leading to the failure of a great legal mind unable to accept the constraints of Big Law.

traditionalguy said...

@ PatHmv...Do you recall the saying, "Get the facts and the decision is easy". A new fact set we have never before seen does come down the road quite often. The "Smart Lawyer " will see the facts clearly and use the strengths and weaknesses contained therein. The cookie-cutter processing lawyer may try to repeat what he/she did last time despite a differing fact or two. IMO, smart means to stay alert.

Adam said...

AA proposes neither a jihad nor a fawa; merely a syn tax. She is a tax-and-emend literal.

Adam said...

er, fatwa. Everyone needs an editor.

$9,000,000,000 Write Off said...

Its the sharp, tart folks who make the senseless rules the rest of the profession has to struggle with.

Captiva suggest a name for that class: Idosi

A.W. said...

Bluntly, after I passed the VA bar, I had zero respect for anyone who couldn't pass the bar. I won't say its easy. You bhave to take it serious, and I strongly suggest those barbri courses or a good competitor, but...

Its not really that hard, either.

And wow, what a self-serving analysis on her part.

As for the writing, I have long believed that unclear writing is a product of unclear thinking, as a rule.

A few specific nits:

> if it were meant to predict the likelihood of success as a lawyer

Actually, no it is not, at least in Virginia. It is meant to establish certain minimums of qualification. That is why for instance Virginia doesn’t release the scores. Because its not about scores but whether you know enough to “pass.”

> the failures of Sullivan and others, including Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama, Franklin Roosevelt and Benjamin Cardozo, haven’t done away with the exam.

Mmm, yes and all of them are good rebels, right? I mean Clinton, for instance, couldn’t be more mainstream left these days.

> There are many better ways that the ABA could keep the numbers down in the profession

Grinding teeth. No, the ABA and no one else has a valid interest in keeping the number of lawyers down. As a person with disabilities nothing frightens me more than the idea that people ought to be excluded from the profession “for their own good.” let the market decide how many lawyers it wants, not some pinhead scatterbrained academic who can’t focus long enough to pass a wimpy bar exam.

> And there are many more students in a law school than a medical school, given the lack of need for cadavers and the like: for instance, the entering class at Harvard Medical School has 165 slots, whereas the 1L class at Harvard Law School contains 550 people. Plainly, the population of legal academia is excessive.

Jesus, that is so stupid. She thinks the number of lawyers should correlate in some way to the number of doctors. Never mind that our current administration is massively increasing the reach of our regulatory agencies, thus increasing the need for more lawyers. The need for lawyers is based on factors that have no relationship whatsoever to the need for doctors.

> the fifty-state survey to prove a negative

I have had to do one of those, and I can assure you that a company that spans all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) needs those kinds of surveys.

> the memo to nowhere

I have been in big law for years and have never had to write anything like that, except in my summer internship, which we all know doesn’t serve any purpose for clients, but is instead a 3 month job interview.

> the repetitive brief that says nothing and gets read by no one.

Again, never had to do that. indeed, for all your supposed non-conformity, you seem to have done more “comforming to stupid rules” than I have.

As one person said in the original post: “If you went to Yale and failed the bar, it’s because you didn’t study enough and thought you could get by on your natural genius.”

I went to Yale, and I fully endorse that thought. Barring extraordinary events like a family member being killed, you have no excuse for failing the bar, and that goes double if you are in a top school.

raf said...

"Man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal. R. A. Heinlein

A very good example of where a semicolon would have been appropriate, and therefore also an example of why it is usually unnecessary.

William said...

I never read any of her books, but she certainly made a living at it. I'm sure her quirks and personal history will give her unique insights into many facets of DWI ordinances and divorce law as applied to celebrities. Law is a complicated ecosystem, and there are many ecological niches. She'll find her place, but she'll probably make more money writing about her trials as a lawyer than actually winning trials as a lawyer.

raf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
raf said...

...our current administration is massively increasing the reach of our regulatory agencies, thus increasing the need for more lawyers.

Thus is revealed the administration's plan to solve the unemployment problem.

JackOfClubs said...

My first reaction was: God forbid that people who want to practice law should be adept at following rules! But then I thought about it and realized that the bar exam evidently works; it keeps people like this out (or at least delays their entry). For the first time in my life, I'm proud of the law profession.

Treacle said...

Brad - "There is no excuse for failing the bar exam."

What if, a couple weeks before the bar exam in the late 80's, you find out your ex-boyfriend has full blown AIDS, and you get an HIV+ diagnosis? That is an adequate excuse for failing.

But it is a stupid exercise. Any attorney who responded to an issue the way we do in the bar exam would be guilty of malpractice.

On the other hand, it was a pretty easy exercise (assuming no personal life tragedy intervenes).

Bruce Hayden said...

I disagree that anyone can pass a state bar exam, but only a bit. I categorize people who fail into several categories:

- Too stressed out. Known a couple of those were at the tops of their LS classes, stressed out the first time through, but aced it the next time around. Rare - but it does happen. One of those tried law for a couple years, has a father, brother, and husband as lawyers, but is now much happier as a law librarian.

- Didn't prep. That's what likely happened to JFK, Jr. the first two times. Too many actresses and models to date, but buckled down the 3rd time, since his job was at stake. Know one guy who has failed now 3 times. He still can't figure out why he was only offered a patent agent slot, when the other 200 of us did buckle down, do the prep, and passed a state bar exam.

- Not enough horsepower. This is the dirty little secret of affirmative action - a significant percentage of African Americans who graduate from lower tier law schools fail the bar at least once.

I think that you have to look at the bar exam as part of the guild initiation rite. You spend six weeks or so cramming, and then wager it all on the two (or so) day test.

I will admit though that I got lucky on my first state (CO) bar exam. At the time, you could pass the bar exam on just the (multiple guess) Multistate if you scored high enough. About a week out, I found myself scoring that high in the prep tests, and so stopped prepping for the essay portion. It worked - I scored about 15 points above the cutoff and was in. Unfortunately, when I took the AZ bar exam ten years later, this sort of thing was no longer available, and so had to finally learn how to write the essays.

Bruce Hayden said...

I disagree that anyone can pass a state bar exam, but only a bit. I categorize people who fail into several categories:

- Too stressed out. Known a couple of those were at the tops of their LS classes, stressed out the first time through, but aced it the next time around. Rare - but it does happen. One of those tried law for a couple years, has a father, brother, and husband as lawyers, but is now much happier as a law librarian.

- Didn't prep. That's what likely happened to JFK, Jr. the first two times. Too many actresses and models to date, but buckled down the 3rd time, since his job was at stake. Know one guy who has failed now 3 times. He still can't figure out why he is only offered a patent agent slots, when the other attorneys in the firms he applies to did buckle down and do the prep.

- Not enough horsepower. This is the dirty little secret of affirmative action - a significant percentage of African Americans who graduate from lower tier law schools fail the bar at least once.

I think that you have to look at the bar exam as part of the guild initiation rite. You spend six weeks or so cramming, and then wager it all on the two (or so) day test.

I will admit though that I got lucky on my first state (CO) bar exam. At the time, you could pass the bar exam on just the (multiple guess) Multistate if you scored high enough. About a week out, I found myself scoring that high in the prep tests, and so stopped prepping for the essay portion. It worked - I scored about 15 points above the cutoff and was in. Unfortunately, when I took the AZ bar exam ten years later, this sort of thing was no longer available, and so had to finally learn how to write the essays.

reader_iam said...

I would have chosen the word "sense" over "sensibility" at the end of this post.

David said...

Even the sharpies have to study and prepare.

Willingness to prepare: not a bad screen for admission to the bar.

A.W. said...

Bruce

Okay, I will concede I spoke less than exactly. I do agree, first, that lots of people get psyched out. I was freaking out pretty badly the night of. And then I look at it and said, “this isn’t so bad.” So in own way, I am trying to reduce the problem without acknowledging it is a genuine problem. my bad.

But I have to disagree with you here:

> Didn't prep. That's what likely happened to JFK, Jr. the first two times.

I agree a lot of failures are failure to prep, and kind of admitted that. but in the case of jfk jr. I would say more like he was kind of a moron. But I could be wrong.

Ironically the question he kept failing on? “Is it negligence for a person to fly a plane at night when they haven’t be taught how to fly by instruments only?”

FloridaSteve said...

I couldn't resist a quick re-write!


The common denominator among those who failed the bar in my class at Yale Law School was a complete inability to comply with senseless rules. They weren’t the best students, but they were the tartest and the sharpest. They were the least likely to accept the constraints of Big Law that make neither financial nor intellectual sense. Constraints like the fifty-state survey to prove a negative, the memo to nowhere and the repetitive brief that says nothing and gets read by no one.

cf said...

I passed two bar exams with minimal effort by sticking with one rule:Think shallow. I figured that grading so many exams, the graders wanted to know that the test taker could identify the issues , describe them,and apply them rationally to the given facts.

Period.
BTW when I began practicing law as an appellate lawyer, most of my colleagues were Ivy League grads (global thinkers like Wurtzel I suppose). In a very short time, the big briefs were assigned to me. It seems the supervising counsel didn't think the Courts of Appeals gave much of a fig about the law in Rhodesia or ancient Rome.They figured the judges wanted to know current, relevant US authorities and specific record references in the case before them.

A.W. said...

cf

sheesh, i had hoped most of my classmates KNEW that what their profs were telling them was BS.

reader_iam said...

Do law students sometimes confuse thinking like a lawyer with [what they {at least} perceive as] thinking like a law professor? I don't know, since I'm neither lawyer nor law student. But if so, couldn't this explain part of the problem?

A.W. said...

heh, gmta, the blogfather liked the same comment i did in the original post: http://pajamasmedia.com/instapundit/102852/

AST said...

I passed, but I still don't know how the grading system in Law School or the Bar Exam worked. The things I thought I did well on, I barely passed, and the ones I was at sea in, I got better scores.

That was only the beginning of my troubles with law. I should have done something else. One of my friends put it this way, "We're law review fodder. We're just here for the law review to have 90% to be above." That's how law school makes you feel if you're not one of the elites.

Or maybe it's iliter.(wv)

HDHouse said...

Putting lawyers in some sort of perspective..

dave1310 said...

Maybe, no offense intended, professor, the part that should be done away with is mandantory law school. Historically, we've had attorneys turn out pretty good without law school attendance. Abe Lincoln comes to mind. Preserve the schools for those parts which may be difficult to learn by "reading," for currency and for upgrading skills.

Richard Fagin said...

Fellow law students with Elizabeth Wurtzel's mind set made getting As in federal income tax, corporations, secured transactions, bankrputcy, trusts wills and estates and marital property a breeze. Thank you for refusing to follow the mindless, stupid rules, Ms. Wurtzel, so I can make a very nice living doing what you won't.

HDHouse said...

@Richard...

wasn't there also a joke about the neurosurgeon who was a free spirit and barely made it through med school...he finally got a recommendation from another doc after years of butchery...it read:

"Although Dr. X was a horrible student and wasn't much use in medical school I can tell you that what he didn't know in book learning he certainly makes up for in the orignality of his procedures".

Bob Ellison said...

Bruce Hayden has the main point: the Bar is a guild. Lawyers tend to be smart and clever, so they're good at fooling themselves and others into believing that restricting such a trade the way they do (as opposed to, for example, structural engineering) is important.

So perhaps I agree with Wurtzel, even though she writes long sentences.

Nora said...

I would think that anybody who puts forward anecdotal evidence, not to mention "tartness" as qualifier, to support their case is a fine example why the bar exams are necessary.

A.W. said...

Dave

> Maybe, no offense intended, professor, the part that should be done away with is mandantory law school. Historically, we've had attorneys turn out pretty good without law school attendance. Abe Lincoln comes to mind. Preserve the schools for those parts which may be difficult to learn by "reading," for currency and for upgrading skills.

Well, indeed there were no state bar associations for years, and the requirements for entry was really low. For instance, in the 1830’s, when Thaddeus wanted to join the York bar, they changed the rules to specifically exclude him. Biographer Thomas Woodley suggests this might have been discrimination based on his handicap (silly, but very possible back then). So Stevens took a ride down to Bel Air, Maryland, where the entrance requirements included buying some alcohol for the examiner, losing intentionally at a card came and explaining one point of law. In other words blatant and open bribery. Having been licensed in Maryland, he then went back to Pensylvania, and settled down to practice in Gettysburg, admitted by reciprocity. Needless to say if you face disability discrimination in one state today, you can’t get around it nearly so easily.

But on the other end of things, the law was considerably simpler back then. we didn’t have this massive regulatory state, for instance. Now if you suggested also reducing that as well, I would be very on-board with that idea.

A.W. said...

Bob,

Well, there are valid reasons to wish to restrict entrance to the legal profession. For quality, in most states literally any person can be plucked out of the blue and conscripted to provide defense work for an indigent defendant. For that reason the judge has to be able to believe any random licensed lawyer is qualified.

But I have long been critical of that. first, no judge should be able to force you to represent anyone, because of, you know, the 13th Amendment. They get around that by claiming that you consent by entering that profession, but you could say that about any profession. If any dares to try to conscript me, I think I just might make a case of it.

So defense attorneys should be volunteers and in those cases, we should be testing them, but when a large corporation chooses a corporate counsel like me, they should be free to pick anyone, even someone who has flunked their test.

But a more valid purpose exists in ensuring ethics and as part of that, an ethics test is justified. But that is it in my book.

Thomas said...

How well is the court persuaded by what you write? For starters, make it easy to read. Simple declarative sentences tend to carry the day.

Bob Ellison said...

A.W., I like the way you cut through the difference between a hypothetical court-appointed, volunteer counsel and a corporate lawyer.

But we rarely even discuss these ideas of what might be the best system! One of the better lawyers I've ever met left a big position at a good firm to go corporate, and his biggest regret was the loss of respect he knew he'd endure. That's asinine, especially given the supposedly fancy, credentialed lawyers who are sometimes incompetent.

As for ethics, don't go there.

Fat Man said...

Elizabeth Wurtzel made her reputation as a drug sponge and a narcissist. Like The Won, she had written two books about herself, "Prozac Nation" and "Female Dog", before she did anything.

The adolescents in the room who find her attractive can use a search engine to find pictures of her without a shirt on. They were taken a few years back. She has left 40 behind and she now looks kind of scagged out.

As for the bar exam, pay it no mind. It is not that hard. If your mind rejects silly rules, you shouldn't be practicing law, because there is nothing to law other than silly rules.

A reasonable argument can be made for limiting the amount of education and other formal requirements for practicing law, as being unduly restrictive for minorities and expensive for consumers. But La Wurtzel doesn't make it.

Just ignore her. It is the thing that will upset her the most.

A.W. said...

btw, since legal writing is a subject in this thread let me share a recommendation for you.

http://www.amazon.com/Legal-Writing-Style-Hornbooks-Weihofen/dp/0829920668

that is Henry Weihofen, Legal writing style, 2nd edition. hands down best book on how to write like a lawyer, if you want to do that sort of thing. it marches you through, drums out all your bad habits and teaches you the way you are supposed to write to better serve your clients. i have loaned out my copy about 10 times and everyone i loaned it to raved about it.

i managed to find a used copy on amazon for $5. new it costs $40. even at $40, it is worth every penny.

JAL said...

Sore loser.

Why is it some people who are convinced they are really the smartest and the brightest just don't think the rules apply to them.

And they go on, get elected, go to Washington, and write rules for the rest of us.

(That no one, not even them, knows or understands until the bill is already passed, and which we inevitably violate frequently & unknowlingly because there is no way not to.)

Publius the Clown said...

I passed the NY bar on my first try (as did 88% of my fellow first time test-takers with a degree from an accredited law school during the July 2007 sitting, if memory serves). And I agree that Wurtzel's attitude is somewhat obnoxious.

But the bar exam, as administered, is absurd. It's all about memorization of the law, which you rarely if ever need as a practicing attorney.

I would do one of two things: 1) abolish the bar exam, or 2) re-model the test so that it's virtually all MPT, which is a much closer simulation of what a practicing lawyer does.

bagoh20 said...

Could a really bright person with no law school, study basic law for a year; then with 2 months of specific bar exam preparation, pass the average bar exam?

Michael said...

There is much truth to the idea that the Bar Exam is not a good predictor of future success as an attorney. On the other hand, my son-in-law failed the bar 2 times before he passed and today is one of the most successful criminal defense attorneys in Seattle.

Of course, criminal defense, family-law, tax-law, etc., are certainly not within the province of the free thinker. Such minds are most valued among the appellate lawyers who, by virtue of their free-thinking, are able to plumb the depths of any text, no matter how clearly written, and find, penumbras and emanations of all kinds untethered to the legislation in question.

As for myself, I was a graduate student (immunology) and I must say the various apprentice models (graduate-student, clerkships, medical-school internships, etc.,) yield solid professionals and good teachers. Why wouldn't something like that work for law-students -- assuming, of course, that law schools wanted to turn out good lawyers.

Such a model would have the additional benefit of restricting the number of free-thinking lawyers infesting the public square.

Peace,

Michael

Tex the Pontificator said...

When I took the bar in March 1976, I thought it was nothing more than extreme hazing. Now I'm more sympathetic to the idea that you need some quality check on what the law schools put out. I don't know, however, that the bar exam does such a great job. I am open to better options.

Ritmo Brasileiro said...

Guess who said this:

"Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."

The same guy who massively over-complicated Newtonian mechanics.

Damn fast-talking, pompous, liberal sophists.

Destroy them and their blasted word-weapons!

Ignorance is Bliss said...

Why is it that those who believe themselves to be the tartest always seem so bitter; the sharpest so dull?

blake said...

Destroy them and their blasted word-weapons!

And yet, ironically, it's the other side that's anti-nuke.

Go figger.

Ritmo Brasileiro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ritmo Brasileiro said...

Blake, I don't think either side is in love with the idea of being nuked. One side seems to believe working against their proliferation is the best way to avoid that and the other seems to believe that threats and chest-beating are preferable.

If you're talking about nuclear energy for domestic consumption, just make it easier on yourself and tell the pundits of the right to push for reprocessing. Liberals seem to have this funny aversion to nuclear waste. I know it sounds like "recycling", which some believe to be intrinsically evil. But in this case, it's not.

The answer's so simple. Why the hell would anyone prefer to have casks of mutagens with a half life of 10,000 to 1,000,000 years carted around the country like so many bag ladies' possessions?

It's amazing how many simple answers to mindless political squabbles are prevented from ever seeing the light of day.

Brian said...

I passed on my first try, because I studied 8 hours a day for 6 straight weeks. And no, I did not waste a nickel on BarBri. Those courses are designed for people that either know they are too lazy to do it themselves, or those who have been suckered in thinking they cannot pass without it.

I also had the best motivation to pass: I had a wife and two young daughters, and a letter from a mortgage company that said I was approved pending me passing the bar exam (which came with the accompanying raise at the law firm I was clerking at). Every time I wanted to cut out early, or take the day off, I pulled out that letter.

I firmly believe that if you paid attention for at least 25% of lawschool, and study your ass off before the exam there is no way you will fail. None. My buddy and I wrote down a list of 8 people we thought would fail the bar exam. None of them were dumb, they were just lazy and/or had a sense of entitlement. We were right on 7 of them.

Ron Nelson said...

Ann, don't be so hard on the lowly semi-colon. Don't you know its the "half-way house" for recovering prose felons?

Bob Ellison said...

RE: use of the semicolon-- (there, one colon, one m-dash, and one parenthetical remark so far!)-- (another m-dash and another parenthetical!) I'm reminded of an acquaintance who submitted an article with a sentence or two along the lines of "their arguments were upheld". His editor had a red pencil. See, Prof. Althouse? I can write shortly. And his editor used her pencil. She wrote, "Addicted to passive voice, aren't we?" He wrote in response. He did! And he wrote what appears in the following short sentence. "Well, I use it!"

davis,br said...

I dunno why ...but this is my favourite post of everything you've written Ann (no, I'm not a law prof, heh).

AZDCbadger said...

Here's to the diploma privilege

dave1310 said...

AW,
In the linguistic currency of the 111th Congress, you may "deem" that I consider a reduction in legalistic complexity a given. The basic issues facing a community which may require legal assistance haven't changed much in, say, 4,000 years.
What has changed is governmental regulation which is a plague upon us like unto a horde of locusts, though not limited to a 40 year life cycle most of which is a dormant state.

Eric said...

When I have paid for a lawyer, I have paid for that person to find and observe all the "senseless" rules and laws. If that were not the case, what is the reason for most lawyers?

Amen, brother. If you can't follow the rules law isn't your bag. Don't invoice me for tart people hours.

Paul said...

I, for one, think that the bar exam is too easy, as evidenced by the many many bad lawyers that have passed it. On the other hand, I don't think that a one-size-fits all test is appropriate for a profession as diverse are the law. I would much rather that there were a number of different exams for different types and areas of legal practice and that law students would only be allowed to test for some of those out of school, and have to successfully practice for a set time before they could be licensed for more complex legal practice.

Telissa said...

I would not hire any of you as my lawyer. I require a lawyer with class and a true sense of the world. Your truth is a lie. Elizabeth Wurtzel speaks the truth and you are all proof of it.

FloridaSteve said...

Let me guess. You failed the bar exam on your first attempt.

FloridaSteve said...

Let me guess. You failed your bar exam on the first attempt.