Open the Gates: Tomorrow’s Lawyers are Knocking – We Have the Interest

Open the Gates: Tomorrow’s Lawyers are Knocking – We Have the Interest

 

As a 3L at Golden Gate University School of Law (GGU), I attended GGU’s student-faculty mixer last semester. There, I noticed the sheer quantity of the 1L class. Their class numbers easily eclipsed my class, and the classes I had seen come before me. For reference, my 2016 class matriculated 148 students; the 2018 class matriculated 237 students.[1] In two years, GGU had increased the 1L class size by almost one hundred students.

GGU is not alone in this phenomenon. Since 2016, 1L enrollment has risen by 3percent  and overall law school enrollment has risen over 5 percent[2]

The reason as to why, has been labeled by some as the “Trump Bump.”[3]The most telling statistic compared the number of LSAT test takers in 2016 to those in 2017. The increase was 21.4percent.[4] The 2016 election, and the subsequent policies, hearings, investigations, and reports, has prompted more people to attend law school. In a Kaplan Test Prep survey,[5] pre-law students explained:

“The election gave me a litmus test for how divided our country will be for the next few years and how I want to remedy that. The country needs level headed leaders and through law school, I believe that I can become one of them.”

“I decided to go to law school BECAUSE of the 2016 election. Somebody has to hold these politicians accountable, and it’s clearly not anyone in office right now. Also, if Hillary isn’t gonna be the first female president, then it’s going to be me.”

In fact, 87 percent of those surveyed stated that the current political climate was a significant factor in their decision to apply, and 57 percent stated they plan to use their law degree for public or political issues they care about.[1] These percentages mean that in a time of political chaos and confusion, people are turning to law school to better understand how our country functions and to help them affect change. These applicants are sending a powerful message that they are choosing law for patriotic purposes.

Soon an entire wave of motivated and passionate people will enter the legal field. While law school admission officials caution applicants against basing a law career off of policy issues,[2] the end result can only benefit the legal field. If these new lawyers do\ not go into politics, I predict they will navigate towards civil rights law, constitutional law, and public interest law. In whatever avenue they choose, they will carry their motivations with them. With their addition, the future of law will see driven, passionate lawyers who are ready to practice at a fierce intensity.

We Need Accessibility

Of course, to practice law in California, the above legal-hopefuls must first pass the bar exam. The California State Bar imposes two prohibitive measures: a high cost and a low passage rate.

As a 3L, I am currently experiencing the high cost of choosing to practice in California. Even excluding the little costs like a $21 fingerprinting live scan fee, a $153 laptop registration fee, and a $125 fee to take the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam, the State Bar charges $1,523. [3] The State Bar requires a $122 registration fee, a $551 moral character application fee, and $850 fee simply to sit for the exam.[4] But the cost of knowing that the pass rate is 40.7 percent?[5] Priceless.

Actually, kidding aside, the cost is not priceless. To pass the bar exam, recent graduates incur even more loans to finance the months spent studying, and pay steep rates for bar prep courses in the hope they will pass. Themis currently charges $2,195[6] and Barbri’s early decision rate charges $2,695.[7]

Even more than the steep costs, the State Bar threatens accessibility by imposing an arbitrarily high pass score (“cut score.”) California has the second-highest in the country, second only to Delaware. In July of 2018, only 40 percent of bar takers passed.[8]

California’s cut score is 144.[9] But nationwide, the median cut score is 135.[10] New York, a state which has similar demographics to California, has a cut score of 133.[11] Were California using New York’s standard, 20 percent more people would have passed the bar exam on their first try.[12] This prompts the question, is New York and the rest of the country allowing unqualified lawyers to practice, or is California prohibiting qualified lawyers from passing? Since no mass complaints exist about the quality of other state’s lawyers, I believe the answer is the latter.

But what about the job market? If California lowers its cut score, will there will be more lawyers in California than there are jobs? UCLA Law School Dean Jennifer Mnookin argues that may be so, but that it is not the place of the State Bar, nor the California Supreme Court, to decide the job market.[13] The bar is supposed to represent a standard of minimum competence. For California to intentionally and arbitrarily impose a high cut score, then charge money as people try multiple times to simply gain access to practice law, impedes qualified lawyers from accessing the law. With a new wave of patriotic-minded lawyers taking the bar in a few short years, this impediment is even more tragic.

In response to the low passage rates the State Bar has implemented a “California Bar Exam Strategies and Stories” program.[14]The program is a sort of social network for bar takers. Those studying for the exam will have access to video stories from past bar takers about their experience. Then at the end of the exam, they will upload their own story. While I appreciate the State Bar trying to foster a sense of community, most students already anticipate the intense stress of bar study and have sought the advice of professors and classmates. To make a real difference to bar takers, California should lower the cut score.


[1] Id.

[2] Id. 

[3] https://www.law.uci.edu/academics/registrar/bar-info/cal-bar fees/

[4] Id. Some costs based personal charges from the State Bar.

[5] http://www.calbar.ca.gov/About-Us/News-Events/News-Releases/state-bar-releases-july-2018-bar-exam-results

[6] https://www.themisbar.com/faq

[7] https://www.barbri.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/student_enrollment_form_early_decision.pdf

[8] Supra, note 10.

[9] http://www.ncbex.org/assets/BarAdmissionGuide/NCBE-CompGuide-2019.pdf; pg 33

[10] http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/ucla-faculty-voice-why-is-it-so-much-harder-to-become-a-lawyer-in-california-than-in-new-york

[11] Supra, note 14.

[12] Supra, note 15.

[13] Supra, note 15.

[14] http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Admissions/Examinations/California-Bar-Exam-Strategies-and-Stories-Program

 


[1] http://law.ggu.edu/about/consumer-information/

https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/statistics/2018-509-enrollment-summary-report.pdf;and https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/statistics/2016_standard_509_data_overview.pdf

[3] https://abovethelaw.com/2018/12/law-school-enrollment-is-up-for-the-first-time-in-nearly-a-decade/?rf=1

[4] http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/increase_in_lsat_test_takers_is_seen_as_evidence_of_trump_bump

[5] https://www.kaptest.com/blog/press/2019/02/25/kaplan-test-prep-survey-nearly-90-percent-of-law-schools-say-the-political-climate-was-a-significant-factor-in-application-increase/

 

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