Bar Exams

This isn’t what I meant when I said law students need a helping hand.

I know, that’s not really a fair question. In most cases, you have to submit yourself to three expensive years of law school before they will even allow you to cram for six weeks in order to pass the bar. I just wanted to highlight that the expensive part of becoming a lawyer is the three years — the last of which is completely useless — not that sprint at the end to pass the bar exam.

That’s why it doesn’t make sense for a state to sell a “no bar exam for in-state students” option as a cost savings for students. You want to help students? Get rid of the third year of law school. You want to incentivize students to remain in-state for law school during a highly competitive market for law applications? Then you follow Wisconsin’s path and offer to ignore your own bar exam if people would just please, please, please go to an in-state school.

Another Midwestern state is considering doing just that, because it helps the schools, not because it helps students….

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Ted Olson’s hourly rate.

* While we’re celebrating recently anointed Biglaw partner classes, let’s take a minute to call out the firms that haven’t bestowed the honor upon a single woman this year. Cheers, jerks. [Am Law Daily]

* The results of the NLJ’s Law Firm Billing Survey are out, and lo and behold, one of the top partners in the country is pushing $2,000 an hour for his services. Congrats, Ted! [National Law Journal (sub. req.)]

* Everyone’s buzzing about the federal law clerk who’s been accused of attempted aggravated rape and solicitation of a minor under 13. Don’t let that legendary 4.0 GPA go to waste. [Times-Picayune]

* Congratulations to Gerchen Keller Capital, the litigation finance firm founded by former SCOTUS clerks and hedge-fund alumni, on raising $260 million for its new fund. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Iowa is thinking about allowing law grads to practice ASAP instead of having to pass a bar exam. Paired with its recent tuition cuts, the Hawkeye State is looking better and better. [Des Moines Register]

* If you’re in the unfortunate situation of still having to look for a law job once OCI has ended, then you might want to start considering applying for some of the other law jobs that don’t want you. [Mashable]

* The incarceration of a blogger known for making salacious allegations against federal judges raises First Amendment concerns. [New York Times]

Recently, the Kentucky Supreme Court rejected a registered sex offender’s application to sit for the Kentucky bar exam. Guy Padraic Hamilton-Smith pled guilty in 2007 to a single charge involving the “possessing or viewing of matter portraying a sexual performance by a minor.” He received a five-year suspended sentence but was ordered to register as a sex offender for the following twenty years. Hamilton-Smith graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Law in 2011. Since graduating, he has been working in a non-lawyer position for the Lexington firm of Baldani, Rowland, and Richardson.

The Kentucky Office of Bar Admissions denied Hamilton-Smith’s application to sit for the bar exam, citing character and fitness concerns. The Office also asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to create a rule that would have kept all registered sex offenders from joining the state’s bar, but the court opted against that suggestion. Instead, the court wants the Office of Bar Admissions to consider bar applicants with sex-offender registration on a case-by-case basis.

What were the particular circumstances in Hamilton-Smith’s case that led the Kentucky Supreme Court to deny his application, despite not creating a blanket rule? Was it the right outcome?

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As 2013 draws to a close, let’s look back at the 10 biggest stories in the legal profession over the past year. This is an annual tradition here at Above the Law, which we’ve done in 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. We’ll fire up the old Google Analytics machine to get data on our most popular posts, based on pageviews, and share the results with you.

Before turning to specific stories, let’s look at the top general discussion topics here at ATL. For 2013, our most trafficked category page was Biglaw, which bumped Law Schools out of the top spot — a spot that Law Schools held from 2010 through 2012. Now that the word is out about the perils of getting a law degree, leading to plummeting applications, perhaps it’s time to move on from the “don’t go to law school” narrative.

After Biglaw and Law Schools, our third most-popular category page was, as usual, Bonuses. This wasn’t a terribly exciting year for bonuses — there were no spring bonuses, and Cravath and its many followers paid out the same bonuses as last year — but people still want to know the score.

Our fourth most-popular category page was small law firms. Small firms, including boutiques, are an area of increasing focus and readership for us — and also where many of the job opportunities are these days.

Moving on from the topic pages, what were the 10 most popular individual posts at Above the Law in 2013?

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We’re now in year two of the Michigan “let’s make the bar exam more difficult” plan. In 2012, the Michigan Board of Law Examiners changed the weight it gives to the essay questions, with the goal of producing lawyers with a better understanding of state law. I don’t know, there are probably all sorts of things that don’t apply to automakers in Michigan that you’d never see on the Multistate section.

This makes the bar more difficult and more stupid at the same time. It’s harder to answer an essay question than a multiple choice event where you can make an educated guess, but it’s also dumber to administer a “standardized” test that relies heavily on the individual tastes of essay graders.

In any event, the results from the July 2012 bar exam were predictably horrific. Only 55% of test takers passed the July 2012 test. Cooley totally embarrassed itself, even by Cooley standards, with only 42% of test takers from that school passing.

This year, 60% of test takers passed the July 2013 Michigan Bar. So that’s better, though still pretty rough. Cooley, again, covered itself in glory by posting a 43% pass rate. But all the law schools have complained about Michigan’s new, harder exam.

And the Michigan BOLE doesn’t care. Law schools in Michigan better raise their game, because the game ain’t changing….

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O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! On Friday, California bar exam results came out (and 55.8% of applicants passed, with a pass rate of 68% for first-time takers, meaning that just one stat is up (barely) from last year’s results). And today, we’ve finally got a list of the passage rates for the July 2013 administration of the New York bar exam by law school.

In 2012, more than half of the state’s law schools saw their pass rates take a tumble. In 2013, more than half of the state’s law schools were able to improve their pass rates, and in some cases, by epic proportions. The state’s overall pass rate for first-time takers jumped by two percentage points.

So which law schools’ pass rates climbed, and by how much? And which school sank like a stone?

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* In November, Supreme Court justices engaged in the “totally unnecessary” practice of releasing 41 pages of nondecision opinions. In all fairness, we can’t really blame them for enjoying hearing themselves speak. [National Law Journal]

* These D.C. Circuit judges of differing political viewpoints “disagreed less than 3 percent of the time” over the course of two decades. Please, keep arguing about the court’s “ideological balance.” You’re accomplishing lots. [New York Times]

* With more tie-ups than ever before and another record broken, 2013 is officially the year of full-blown law firm merger mania. Query how many more we’ll be able to add to the already huge list of 78 by the end of December. [Am Law Daily]

* Speaking of which, Baker Hostetler is merging with Woodcock Washburn, an intellectual property firm with a name that sounds like the aftercare instructions for a painful sex toy injury. [Philadelphia Inquirer]

* Of course a fired ADA’s scandalous emails landed on BuzzFeed. This is one more embarrassing chapter in the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. [New York Times]

* It’s amazing how things can change in a year. In 2012, New York bar pass rates for in-state schools fell. In 2013, they’re up — except for one school, which is way down. Which one? [New York Law Journal]

And now time for another attempt to “re-imagine” the otherwise useless third year of law school. This time, ALM editor-in-chief Aric Press weighs in with a thoughtful piece about how law schools could be doing a much better job at preparing people to take and pass the bar exam, especially minority students. Whether or not the bar exam is a good test of practice-ready skills barred attorneys need is a different question: at the very least, we can argue that law schools should be preparing would-be lawyers to be licensed.

It’s an interesting idea, but let’s be clear: most people, most of the time, can pass the bar with the help of an eight-week dedicated prep course. “Preparing students for the bar” cannot by itself justify an entire year of some of the most expensive education around. Getting people ready for the bar isn’t a “reform,” it should be a basic requirement for any accredited law school. And many law schools are already doing a decent enough job at graduating law students who can pass the bar. I’m not sure that we should change the focus of education for everybody just because some schools are not achieving basic competence…

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‘Gee, my life is so meaningful. Thanks a lot, law school!’

* Despite the fact that the overall demand for legal work was down by five percent during the first nine months of the year, law firms still raised their hourly rates. Hey, what can we say? Math is hard. [Am Law Daily]

* After instructing his lawyers not to speak during what he called a “sham sentencing,” Whitey Bulger received two life sentences plus five years. Don’t worry, the appeal won’t be a sham. [National Law Journal; CNN]

* Attention c/o 2015: the New York City Bar Task Force is considering throwing commercial paper out the window in favor of administrative law. Something something arbitrary and capricious. [New York Law Journal]

* What is law school for, aside from collecting gigantic mountains of non-dischargeable student loan debt? Apparently it’s for creating a more meaningful life, because with poverty comes clarity. [WSJ Law Blog]

* In the very near future, you might need a license to conduct business with virtual money like bitcoin. The Brothers Winklevii are probably already preparing their paperwork to file. [DealBook / New York Times]

The best law school professors have practical experience that allows them to draw from personal memory to bring a lesson to life for students. One professor who often lectures students on their ethical obligations can now draw from her own experience to tell students about what happens when lawyers lie to federal judges to help clients perpetrate a fraud.

The irony is scrumptious.

You’d think that getting busted for lying to a judge and benchslapped silly would doom a law professor, but that’s premature. She’ll probably lose her job for failing as a professor first….

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