Another 'Fix' Law School Proposal: Bar Prep in Third Year?

By William Peacock, Esq. on November 20, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Seriously, this is becoming a new hobby: find and criticize proposals to "fix" law schools. (Don't ask about my ideas. With apologies to the South, it would somewhat resemble Sherman's March to the Sea, razing diploma mill schools, cutting seats everywhere else, and eliminating any ABA-sponsored tenure requirements to cut costs and tuition.)

Today's proposal? Lets make third-year useful again by incorporating bar exam prep classes into the curriculum. It's not a bad idea -- it's just mostly pointless.

Problem: Minority Grads Have Lower Pass Rates

The proposal starts with Brad Smith, the general counsel of Microsoft Corporation and the chair of the Leadership Council for Legal Diversity. He notes that one significant barrier to diversity, divergent pass rates between minority and nonminority test takers, could be addressed with additional attention to the bar exam during school. ALM's editor-in-chief Aric Press builds on Smith's idea by proposing building the bar prep into the third year of law school.

This would have the side-benefit of making oft-criticized as superfluous third-year actually useful, rather than another year of casebooks and theoretical jurisprudence.

Why it Could Work

Well, the traditional third year is arguably pointless.

And Press tosses out the creative idea of a consortium of schools chipping in to create digital bar prep courses that cover all fifty states, which addresses my initial reaction -- how is a Virginia school supposed to cover fifty bar exams? -- to the idea of bar prep in the third year.

Take online bar prep courses, toss in additional clinical opportunities, and perhaps even throw in some courses on small firm management, and the third year of law school could become something of value.

Why it Might Not Work

Who wants to pay $50,000 in tuition for the equivalent of a $3,000 prep course? The rest of the third year would have to be awfully compelling to justify paying tuition for something that is traditionally left to a two-month cram session post-grad.

Elie Mystal, at Above the Law, makes a great point about the proposal: while it may be useful for lower-tier schools (the for-profit diploma mills especially), which have trouble producing grads that can pass the bar exam, for schools with high pass rates, the idea provides no value at all to those students, other than saving them from paying for a post-grad bar prep course (a minor expense in comparison to law school tuition).

In other words, it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. Plus, it does nothing to address the arguably bigger issues in legal education: the tuition is too high, the employment rate is too low, and we still aren't "practice ready."

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