Saturday, April 4, 2020

COVID-19 used as an excuse to lower standards to the vanishing point—literally

In response to the spread of COVID-19, the bar exams scheduled for the summer of 2020 have been canceled. New graduates and others who had expected to take the exams this summer may now have to wait until the autumn or later. First-year jobs in law may be placed on hold. Alternatively, new graduates may find themselves having to study for the bar exams while working. People are crying rivers over these problems.

Of course, those with rheumy eyes for the Class of 2020 have rushed to offer solutions. One of these is to admit people "temporarily" without examination on the condition that they work under the supervision of a lawyer. This is just a back door to skipping the exams altogether. Once people had practiced "temporarily" in this way, there would be demands to license them permanently on the strength of their alleged experience. After all, we would be told, they had already demonstrated their competence in practice. But who knows what they would do under "supervision"? Who knows how much supervision they would get, or whether the supervising lawyer was competent to supervise them (or even to practice law)? Even in the best of cases, the experience gained and ability demonstrated would likely be closely circumscribed. Most lawyers specialize in one or two areas of practice, often quite narrow. The relatively few generalists might not be able to offer rich and varied work under supervision to fresh graduates. However much experience a person might acquire under this "temporary" measure, it would not demonstrate even the shallow breadth of knowledge covered by the exams.

Advocates of this "temporary" proposal have pointed out that it offers practical experience, which is required for admission to the bar in many countries but not in the US. Yes, many countries do require a period of apprenticeship—but they also require exams, usually a damn sight more difficult than those used in the US. Canadian requirements vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction but typically include about ten months of "articling" (apprenticeship) and a battery of exams, sometimes also months of part-time or full-time courses run by the bar association. Most of the rest of the Commonwealth takes a similar approach. In Germany, law students have to take multiple exams, some of them oral (no bullshit multiple choice!), over a period of years; usually they get only one or two chances at passing, and the exams are designed to eliminate a large part of the class. After all that, German students still have to complete an apprenticeship. They are usually close to 30 when they are admitted to the bar. By contrast, the weak exams used in the US are constantly denounced as an unfair hurdle—and they're really the only hurdle at all, other than character-and-fitness requirements and the payment of a modest fee.

Another proposal, endorsed by more than two thousand law students in a recent letter to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, is "diploma privilege": simply admit every graduate of an ABA-accredited law school to any bar in the US without examination, on the assumption that the JD itself proves their competence. Readers of Outside the Law School Scam will already know what Old Guy thinks of this proposal. Before ripping into it, however, I should explain that it is actually used in some places: New Hampshire and Wisconsin extend diploma privilege to graduates of their respective state law schools, while generally requiring graduates of other law schools to pass the exams. Old Guy admits that the U of Wisconsin is one of the more respectable fourth-tier law schools (the same cannot be said of the U of New Hampshire—named, incidentally, after Franklin Pierce, one of the worst US presidents other than the current abomination and some of his recent predecessors). At least it can be argued that a state can, in principle, manage its own state-run law school well enough to ensure that each graduate meets a reasonable standard of competence. But the corruption that we have seen even at supposedly élite—Old Guy would say fourth-tier—state-run law schools such as the one at the U of Texas undermines that argument. Moreover, admission to one US bar, for a holder of a JD from an ABA-accredited institution, opens the door to all others. It is not clear that diploma privilege in one jurisdiction should be so readily portable. And if the assumptions underlying diploma privilege even in a Wisconsin or a New Hampshire are questionable, think of the hellacious free-for-all that would result from admitting to the bar every knuckle-dragging über-toileteer that manages to buy a degree (using borrowed money, bien sûr) from the likes of Appalachian or Cooley.

Besides, scamsters, why stop at ditching the bar exams? Why not ditch the JD as well? It obviously does not prove much knowledge of law: even graduates of élite law schools typically sign up for costly, time-consuming bar-review courses in order to bone up for the current exams by learning rudimentary law that they never got from law school. Most of the profe$$ors look down their aristocratic noses at practice; many of them have themselves practiced law very little or not at all, and quite a few have never passed a bar exam or even studied law. Outside a few core courses of widely varying quality, much of the curriculum consists of such crapola as Hip-Hop and the American Constitution, Law & Harry Potter, six-course specialties in Global Law and Leadership, and, by way of proving the cultural and artistic merit of the "million-dollar" JD, lessons enabling one to mutilate "Margaritaville" with three chords on the ukulele. It also eats up three or more years and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, usually billed to the public. Will the hackademic scamsters that recommend throwing the bar exams out the window, conveniently just after eleven of them fell short of the ABA's new standard for passing the bar exam and many others barely met it, cheerfully throw law school and their own overpaid sinecures after it?

Old Guy won't be found shedding a single tear for the Class of 2020. Its members could not have foreseen the hysteria à la Chicken Little that would be whipped up around a virus that does nothing like the damage caused by such easily cured but criminally underreported maladies as malaria (half a billion infections and hundreds of thousands of deaths every year) and starvation coupled with its associated preventable diseases (some 25 million deaths per year, to say nothing of many hundreds of millions of cases of malnutrition, even though the world produces enough food to make every person morbidly obese). But they knew, or ought to have known, that law school is a giant scam, particularly at prices typically far over $200k and sometimes close to $400k. They get not one whit of sympathy from Old Guy for their stupid decision to attend law school despite the work that we have been doing here at Outside the Law School Scam for years.