According to this story over at Diverse Issues in Higher Education, Howard Law School adds the cost of a bar review course ($1,000 per year, $3,000 in total) into its required fees. The Howard Law site was down when I tried to confirm this, but I was able to pull up a cached Google page which did in fact show this fee.
Why? For both good and bad reasons. The good? It appears that one third of students did not take a bar review course (explanation later), and consequently 40% of them failed the MD bar exam. It’s common knowledge that in order to pass the bar exam, you must take a course – BarBri, generally – that teaches specifically to the bar exam. To spend $100,000 or more on a law degree and then fail the bar exam by not going that extra distance at the end of the race is ill-advised.
But the bad? First of all, the students were not taking the bar prep courses because of the cost, not because they thought they were already prepared and didn’t need the extra help. These bar review courses are expensive, and after three years of living like a student and probably having bank accounts as depleted as they will ever be, finding a few grand (plus living expenses) for a long additional bar review course is a significant burden. (I ended up having to take out a Bar Study Loan from everyone’s favorite loan shark, Sallie Mae, for mine – what was I thinking?)
Here’s what I know you’re thinking right now: instead of law schools requiring students to pay extra money for a bar review course, why not simply alter the curriculum and style of teaching to make sure all grads are well-prepped for the bar exam the minute they walk out of law school on graduation day?
And this is one change that I firmly believe law schools should be making. It’s not acceptable – not acceptable- for law schools to continue on a path of ignoring required skills and knowledge, whether that be knowing how to take and pass the bar exam, to knowing how to take a small case from start to finish, to knowing how to dissect and review a contract, etc. The sole focus on the theoretical, archaic, irrelevant(?) world of casebooks and socratic teaching doesn’t fit with what students need (and expect) from three years in law school. Things have to change; professors must start thinking about whether the material they teach is relevant and useful to students and employers (although I concede that without a certain amount of the theoretical, historical and traditional curriculum, lawyers wouldn’t develop the sharper minds needed to practice law).
It’s just one more example of law schools’ attitudes to students: “We’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing, and someone else can pick up the pieces later.” Like with no practical training – the employers are expected to teach that. Like with no concern for the bar exam – the students will pay for that and the bar review providers will teach it. Like with no concern for rising tuition – the students can find public service jobs and the government will pick up loan forgiveness costs. There’s always a third party that law schools are looking at to deal with deficiencies in legal education, and it’s getting old.
Are all law schools like this? No. The article gives Florida A&M’s law school as an example:
Florida A&M University College of Law offers its new graduates a free, 10-week bar prep course. It is the culmination of bar exam prep opportunities that, starting in their first year of law school, are available through FAMU’s Academic Success and Bar Preparation program. That endeavor emphasizes, among other aims, the importance of earning a solid GPA as a first-year student. The ABA mandates a uniform first-year curriculum, meaning courses taught in year one are very likely to appear on the bar exams of every state.
The law school recently added two for credit elective courses aimed at improving passage rates. One course teaches the skills needed to pass bar exams in most states; the other course deals solely with Florida law. Both zero in on essay writing and analytical proficiency.
Why is this model not adopted by all law schools? There’s a rumor that low-ranked schools “teach to the bar exam”, while high-ranked schools – with their high-intelligence students? – don’t need to cover bar exam materials in school because the students are smart enough to pass. In other words, if a school teaches bar exam materials, it’s got dumb students. Obviously, given the choice between attending Harvard and Florida A&M, I’d go for Harvard. But given the choice between attending Florida A&M and another low-ranked law school, I’d rather attend Florida A&M where at least they try and get me through the bar exam, rather than pretending that these issues don’t exist.