On April 1st, first thing in the morning, a number of law students all across the state of Illinois received a forwarded message that the upcoming administration of the Illinois Bar Exam would be “harder” than it has been in the past. Students were told that the Illinois Supreme Court had “resolved” to make the exam more difficult, and the students were exhorted to make the appropriate preparations for the exam.

The email found its way into my inbox, but I largely ignored it. April 1st, April Fool’s Day, I’ve been doing this internet thing for a while now. I didn’t believe that a law professor randomly decided to freak out the entire law student population of Illinois.

But the joke is on me… and Illinois Bar takers. The test is going to be graded with more rigor this year, in an attempt to make it harder….

A professor — who wishes to remain nameless because of the firestorm it created — sent around the following note to a few law students in Chicago:

Folks: I learned recently that the Illinois Supreme Court has resolved to make it more difficult to pass the bar exam. Although I recognize that you plan to put your “all” into studying for the bar, it bears repeating that preparing for the exam is serious stuff. You should work as little as possible while studying for the bar exam, particularly as July rolls around. Moreover, an independent study of more than two thousand students commissioned by one bar prep organization documented a significant percentage increase in pass rate for those graduates attending lectures in person as opposed to digitally. For those of you facing economic hardship, a limited number of bar review scholarships are available. Despite the increased stringency of the bar exam, I am confident that you have had the training to excel. All it takes is time and focus!

I wish you well.

That email got forwarded and forwarded around the entire state of Illinois. Because it was sent on April 1st, many didn’t believe it.

We reached out to the professor and he said that he got his information from the September 2012 issue of the Bar Examiner, a publication of the National Conference of Bar Examiners. He said that he didn’t mean to cause a ruckus and that it was unfortunate that his email went out on April 1.

It’s not going to shock you that I don’t have a print copy of the September 2012 Bar Examiner lying around my basement. And the Illinois Board of Law Examiners hasn’t returned my call.

But after everybody and their mother emailed me about it, I gotta say that I don’t exactly understand people getting freaked out about the email. Are there people out there who were going to half-ass their bar preparation but for this email? Always, there are people who are trying to do this without taking a prep course. It seems to me that saying, “Ooh, this year the bar is hard,” isn’t going to change the minds of people who have already decided that somehow three years of law school is as good a preparation as a six-week course. Some people believe that either they’re learning something in law school, or that the bar exam tests some kind of legal knowledge, and they’ll go down swinging with that view.

And while we’re here, given the saturation of the legal job market, I actually think it’s a good idea for the bar exam to be more difficult. It shouldn’t be something you can pass after six weeks of a commercial prep course, even if it is.

In any event, it looks like the rumors are true, and the Illinois Bar will be getting a little bit more difficult. If that means anything to you, now you know.

UPDATE (6:00 p.m.): There’s additional coverage over at CBS Chicago, which reports that “[f]or the first time in 20 years, the minimum passing grade is going up on the Illinois bar exam. Beginning with this summer’s exam, the minimum passing grade will be 268, up 4 points from the current minimum of 264.”

Exam Raising The Bar For Aspiring Lawers In Illinois [CBS Chicago]


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