Thursday, November 16, 2006

FLUNKING THE BAR: NO FUN

Quite often I go over to Above the Law to find out some of the salacious stuff happening in North America's major law firms.

Anyway, noticed a blurb about Emily Pataki, who is the daughter of the governor of New York, George Pataki. Anyway, she was working at this big law firm, but now she's flunked the New York State Bar and wrote an e-mail to her entire firm letting them know. It seems like an odd thing to do, let everyone know you flunked. Most people would crawl under a rock, but I guess she figured she'd face up to this setback and let people know about it and so maybe she won't get fired.

Flunking the bar is bad enough for anyone but it has to be worse if you're already famous or a son or daughter of someone famous. It's embarrassing and your name gets printed up in all the tabloids. We all know that John F. Kennedy Jr. flunked the bar exams in New York State twice, and the whole media reported on it, and JFK Jr. told the press he was clearly not a legal genius, and on and on.

Finally he passed on the third try. But he eventually left the legal field to start a magazine. I'm wondering if Emily Pataki is going to eventually quit, too. I wouldn't be surprised. She also has a journalism background, she worked at Bloomberg TV once.

The New York bar exam is a real monster. It's several hours worth of questions, plus you have a huge failure rate to begin with, something like 40% or so. This is one of those state exams that Canadian law school graduates can write directly after law school; there's New York State and there is Massachussetts, which is apparently a lot easier. The problem is that in order to pass New York State you have to take these privately-run bar courses from people like BarBri. BarBri runs the most popular course, but the reason why people take that course is because they know everyone else is taking it, so they figure they have to do what everyone else is doing. Many people also take another private bar course at the same time just to make sure! Those cost a ton of money, thousands upon thousands of dollars in fact! It's a ripoff, and a real burden for people to take the bar exam in these states, especially if they have no law job offers to begin with and need to pass the Bar in order to improve their chances. Lots of people have to take out bar loans that they have to pay off, just to write the exams. It's a real burden.

Here in Canada, they do things a lot differently.The various provincial law societies run their own bar courses and the exams; in addition, there is a ridiculous articling requirement that the Americans don't have. But you still have to pay for the bar exam and all the material. In New York it doesn't cost too much to actually sign up and write the bar exam; less than in Canada as I understand it. What really kills you are the ridiculous additional fees to take BarBri and these private bar courses, some of which don't help you one bit in passing the bar exams. In fact I heard these private bar courses have been hauled into court to face lawsuits from disgusted bar flunkers who claim they were ripped off and ill-prepared by these folks.

That's the other thing, once you flunk you have to pay to sit the bar again--- all for a career with unbelievably long hours and lots of stress. The whole thing is a ripoff.

By all accounts the worst bar exam is in California; I read somewhere that the pass rate was something like 38%! That's ridiculous. I read that the dean of the law school at Stanford recently wrote the California bar exam and flunked it. This is a true story. The current mayor of Los Angeles wrote the California bar four times and failed every time, so he finally gave up. I actually know someone who actually graduated from the University of Saskatchewan law school and practised law in Canada, but she moved with her husband to California and she passed the bar there, and worked there as a lawyer. I wonder how she was able to do it given all the reports I hear about how bad it is there with the bar exam. The problem isn't so much that the exam is too long or too onerous; it's probably no worse than what you go through in New York. The real problem is that the grading there is ridiculous.

What people really need to do is go find a state that will take you, where passing the bar exam is really easy. I hear that the pass rate in South Dakota is something like 90%. I think Emily Pataki's true problem is that she lives in New York City. If she really wants to pass the bar exam, she should move to South Dakota. Hey, life isn't too bad there, they have casinos and the like.

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