If you’re studying for the LSAT right now, you probably think it is a pretty terrible test that requires a lot of work and preparation. I hate to break it to you, but law school life doesn’t get easier after you pass the initial hurdle of the LSAT. In fact, the LSAT isn’t even the most difficult entry exam you’ll have to take on your way to becoming a lawyer. A few months after you graduate, you’ll have to take the bar exam.
With passage rates lower than 50% in some states, the bar exam is a daunting challenge. You’ll be tested on everything you supposedly learned over the course of your time in law school and then some. Given that I can’t remember a fraction of what I learned last semester, I can’t even begin to describe how unpleasant that sounds.
Even after you pass the bar, you might not be done. For example, if you take the bar in, say, Colorado, practice law there for a few years, and then decide to move to California, you’ll be forced to take California’s bar exam. If that sounds unnecessary to you, I think you’re right. The good news is that 15 states have adopted the Uniform Bar Exam, which, upon passage, allows a lawyer to practice law in any of the 15 states that recognize it.
A few days ago, New York joined the ranks of Uniform Bar Exam states. Now, for those of you wondering if this changes the curriculum in any way for law students at Columbia, NYU, or the host of other schools in New York state, the answer is no. The core curriculum of classes—torts, contracts, property, et al.—is not going to change. Law school itself is going to stay the same. The way students prepare for the exam will, however, change because the Uniform Bar Exam does not include state law. New York is still going to have a short multiple choice section on state law, but it will not require nearly as much preparation as the current bar exam. Of course, that isn’t to say the bar is suddenly going to be a walk in the park. It still will be extremely difficult, but it won’t require quite the same understanding of local practices.
The biggest change that the adoption of the Uniform Bar Exam will bring about is increased mobility. In today’s world, it is hard to imagine staying in the same state for the entirety of one’s work life. Consequently, a system that requires established attorneys to re-take an extremely difficult examination is not tenuous. Many believe that New York’s decision to adopt the Uniform Bar Exam will create a domino effect, leading many other jurisdictions to adopt the same exam.
Now, you might be thinking that lawyers should have to know local law before they can practice law in a particular state. Well to you I say, try taking three years of law school classes, facing uncertain job prospects and inordinate amounts of stress, and then having to worry about getting examined in a high-pressure environment on issues of state law that you could probably find the answer to within a matter of minutes if you faced them on a case. Also, doctors have a national licensing exam, and if they get one then lawyers should, too; lawyers have a lot more time to research issues on the job, after all.