Saturday, April 10, 2010

Why Are You Taking the Bar Exam?

According to the video below provided by Minnesota Lawyer, 830 law school graduates took the Minnesota bar exam last July. Never having stepped foot into Minnesota, I had never heard of any of the law schools attended by the bar exam takers in the video. I can only assume,without checking USNWR rankings, that none of these schools are considered "top tier" - at least not outside of Minnesota. The Minnesotan who sent me the video also informs me that the Minnesota job market is in the crapper, much like the rest of the Midwestern states, and there aren't any jobs. So why did these students decide to take the bar exam?



None of the graduates in the video seemed to have a job lined up at the time of the bar exam. I hope the guy who failed the bar exam twice passed the third time around if only to save himself from wasting more money on test prep courses. But Ms. Guertin from William Mitchell School of Law nails it when she says at 1:02 that passing the bar exam doesn't necessarily mean you're guaranteed a job.

The bar exam will not guarantee anyone a job right now. The only thing that will be easier is finding doc review work and you can make more money than a law graduate who isn't admitted to the bar. That's it. I hear and read about law school graduates who think passing the bar is the golden key to a great legal job. It isn't. Wiser graduates like Mike at Barely Legal (btw, he started blogging again last month after a long hiatus. Welcome back!) decided to save his money and not take the exam.

People will have different opinions on this but I think the bar exam in this economy is a waste of money and time, especially for third tier graduates who never had a chance at finding a good job in a recession. If you end up finding a great law firm job, let them pay for the exam instead. Don't take out another loan from Sallie Mae or Access Group to take the exam. If you fail, consider it a blessing or buy used Barbri books off of Craigslist if you decide to take it again. You have to ask yourself whether more torture and money down the drain is worth it if you're in a state that has a high unemployment rate and little opportunity to find a good paying legal job. I'm curious to know if any of the graduates in the video found jobs after passing the bar. If any of you are reading this please update us on your job search.

26 comments:

  1. Yeah, too many law grads put too much faith in the bar exam, as if it is guarantee for good employment.

    The only thing that US law school has told me is that law school is reserved for the affluent and well-connected. In Canada and the UK, one enrolls in university in order to become a lawyer.

    After reading blogs like these, Third Tier Reality, JD Underdog, Esq Never, I am no longer considering law school. More importantly, the BigLaw gig, why would any prospective law grad want to do audits for 80hrs/week. Who cares if you're making 160k, one is squandering his youth for the chance of working in the company of avaricious douchebags. It's not worth it, time is more important than money

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  2. Despite my entire law school and job search experience being a complete shitty mess, the one silver lining is that I didn't blow additional money on a BarBri course. I bought the books from a previous test session used for $200 and still passed it on the first try.

    Of course, all the time I spent memorizing the various aspects of commercial paper law and ins-and-outs of the rule against perpetuities is time I'll never get back.

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  3. Except for civil law, it's not actually true that you go right from high school to a law program in Canada.

    That's not important, though. I realize.

    What I will say is that there are worse ways to be unemployed. The most truthful statement in that video (to my mind) was right at the end, when the candidate who had failed the bar twice said that his job search was going to "entail" waiting until the economy gets better.

    And, in that sense, taking a bar exam is not the worst thing to do. If you're already saddled with enormous debt, I'm not sure a few more thousand ($6000-10000 seems about right.) to get admitted in a jurisdiction is such a bad idea. It's not a good way to waste time or fill gaps on your resume, and that is simply because the recession is too severe and too long, and because a bar review course and an exam will only eat up about 3 months. But, I kind of think that at this point, we're either going to pay off our debt or we're not, and the money it takes to do BARBRI and write an exam isn't going to be the straw that broke the camel's back.

    Now, you might shoot yourself in the head before you get to the exam, but barring that outcome, I really don't see the harm. The better decision would have been to avoid law school in the first place. However, once you've failed that little life test, having the option of law practice open to you might be a good decision.

    This is the worst recession since the Great Depression; and, in a normal recession, having the ability to do the legal world-equivalent of waiting tables might be a good thing to be able to wake up some future "tomorrow" and just do.

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  4. I enjoy having the esq. tacked onto my name. Hey, I paid a great amount of money for it, even if I do feel like a fraud for telling everybody that I'm attorney. They expect me to know a lot of stuff that I just don't know!

    That said, I don't know how eager I would have been had I had to retake the bar. Some people I knew made that decision not to retake. Economically, I don't think they ended up being any worse off, but they were also lucky in that they had another career that they could return to (and it being a professional career that she had invested enough in that the employers weren't highly suspicious of this person's claims that they didn't decide to practice law).

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  5. Here is the latest installment of TTTGrad on a talk show explaining his "clever" plan to pay off his student loans:

    http://www.xtranormal.com/watch/6387035

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  6. Anon @ 3:50pm: I am so happy to hear about your decision. If we're helping even a few people realize that attending law school is a bad idea then we've made a difference. You are absolutely correct. Law school is for the affluent and well connected. Those are the people most likely to attend T14 schools or get a good job even if they attend a TTT. And the "best" jobs in the law also suck. That's why a lot of people who value other things in life than just money leave after a few years despite the pay. Good luck in whatever you decide to pursue.

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  7. I think people take the bar exam because that is what is expected of them. If they do not have a job lined up, they would be better off looking for non-legal work - rather than memorizing BLL and shelling out thou$and$ more.

    3:50, I am glad that we have helped some people avoid this economically disastrous decision.

    My sister-in-law lives in Florida and teaches at a community college one night a week, as well as at University of Phoenix. She believes in higher education. But even she is onto the law school lies.

    During one of her recent classes, she asked her students what they eventually wanted to do. About 5 or 6 said they wanted to go to law school. She asked them how they would go about finding jobs. She felt that only one kid in that group could reasonably expect to practice. His father runs a small firm, and his family has donated lots of money to a particular law school over the years. (He can probably get in and has employment lined up.)

    Long story short: a lot of those students now hate my sister-in-law for laying out the facts and telling them that law schools accept WAY TOO MANY students and don't care about placing them in legal employment. (I was surprised to hear this come from her, but it shows that even those who LOVE academia are starting to see reality.)

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  8. Anon @ 4:47pm: Taking out a $6-10k private loan to take the bar exam is a lot of money when you don't have a job and can't pay back the loan relatively quickly. It's practically worthless if the person can't find a job and will likely never get a job at a big or medium sized law firm because of their grades, law school ranking, being unemployed for too long, etc. I would recommend taking the bar exam in a good economy but I don't see how passing the bar can help TTT grads other than get them doc review work. If that is what you want to do and you think spending $6-10k is worth the expense then maybe taking the bar is right for you. Most of the scam bloggers seem to have been admitted to the bar and it hasn't helped anyone find a good paying job.

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  9. HardKnocks:
    I think you've misunderstood or not read my comment. It depends on your existing debt burden.

    There are a lot of soon-to-be TTT grads out there who have no shot at paying back the loans they already have.

    If you had a debt of $150,000 already and no reasonable expectation of decent employment or of ever paying it back, would it really matter if it were $160,000 instead?

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  10. 3:50 is correct. A bar review course is certainly not necessary to pass the bar exam. Second-hand BarBri materials are readily available. I did self-directed study and passed the Ohio bar exam on the first try, with a solid score.

    I have to disagree, though, with those saying "who cares, a bar exam loan is just a drop in the bucket more." If you can avoid borrowing money, don't do it. Owing a few grand less is owing a few grand less.

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  11. One thing I've noticed reading these anti-law blogs is how much the attitudes expressed are based on realities in major cities.

    In some places, the money that comes from being a TTT grad who does personal injury and small criminal work actually goes a really long way. One of my best friends graduated from William Mitchell a few years ago. And sure, it took him a year to find a job, but now he is a deputy DA in a town of 50,000 in a beautiful rural area and he has a much nicer house than I will ever own.

    In places like this none of the firms are large, and it would be impossible to get a job interview without having passed the bar.

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  12. P. Dgy, speaking for myself, I moved to Chicago in part because it meant I could sell my car. That made looking outside of the city for work very difficult.

    I managed to snag a couple of interviews for jobs elsewhere in Illinois. To attend those interviews I had to rent a car and a motel room for a night. I didn't get either job, which was more money down the drain.

    Conversely, I have a friend who found legal work near South Bend, Indiana. His family lived just across the Michigan border and he decided early on that he wasn't sticking around Chicago or sitting for the Illinois bar. He was fortunate to get that job; if he hadn't, he'd be in the same boat as a lot of law grads who get licensed to practice in a jurisdiction but find that there is little or no work available. But even without that job, he still had family nearby and a vehicle to get around in.

    I think the government could really provide a service to the workers in this country if there was some way they could compile and disseminate relatively "fresh" information on what areas of the country are looking for workers and in what industries. It would really assist planning and decision making, especially for law grads.

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  13. P.Dgy: Does your friend originally come from the town where he is a DA? I don't think it is significantly easier to get a job in a rural community as opposed to a large city unless you were born and raised there or you have amazing credentials. The majority of graduates would not be able to get a job as deputy DA, especially in a town they've never lived in. I come from a place that has been hit hard by the recession. There are no jobs, period. Not even document review. So don't pretend that the scam bloggers are exaggerating the dire situation for most graduates both in cities and in rural communities.

    The lucky ones who get a job in this economy will always tell those of us who haven't been as fortunate that so and so got a job in Podunk, NYC, wherever and we can too. That's bullshit. I know someone who got a job at a mid-sized law firm in NYC without having to show any grades. So yes, I guess it is possible to get a great job in this economy without graduating from a T14 with top grades, but that is not the norm.

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  14. I'm actually from a small town in the South, left the small town for a prestigious T-14 NY law school, couldn't find a job in PA, NY or DC, so had to move back home. Guess what? My family is not part of the landed (redneck) gentry lawyer set, they're professionals, so all the doors of the 6 firms in town are closed tight.

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  15. I too am a Southerner, went to a prestigious T10 school and am in the same boat as 12:45 - no job, no prospects and the people in my town wonder "why did you go to ___ law school? Could you not get into [insert name of local law school here]?" Yes, EVEN the gentry redneck lawyers I have attempted to "network" with ask me that. Career services is useless with their advice to "network" when all the lawyers at the networking meetings are starving solos begging you to send any cases their way. I wish I hadn't gone to law school and advise anyone else considering it not to go.

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  16. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    Replies
    1. The person that wrote this false, defamatory comments on your blog was sued for Defamation and settled. Everything posted on here is false. We have asked your website to remove this continuously without any success. If you'd like us to send you a copy of the complaint as well as the settlement in our favor, please let me know. I'd appreciate your immediate attention and cooperation.
      Thank You.

      Delete
    2. I'll delete the comment.

      Delete
  17. do you mind taking the above comment off? she is a scam artist

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  18. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  19. I don't delete other people's comments.

    ReplyDelete
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    1. If you are a diligent lawyer, you would notice that the comment has nothing to do with your site. Keep it classy

      Delete
    2. Angel, I've been getting threats and harassing emails from the people from Open Book Bar Prep based on a comment someone else made on my now 6 year old blog post. Don't let them get to you, you have a reasonable policy and excellent blog.

      Delete
  20. The Unniversity of Minnesota is #20 in the country, ahead of such schools as as USC- Gould and William and Mary, Notre Dame, Fordham, and UC-Davis.

    Makes me wonder how much you actually know about law schools.

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  21. Who spends $6-$10,000 on a bar review course????

    The average (with the course, and exam, and becoming a lawyer) that I have been hearing of has been about $3000-$4000.

    Finally, it truly amazes me that so many people who are so smart are stumped by the idea of "what now." It just stuns me that no one thinks "oh, maybe I should save up some money while I am in law school so that I can afford to be outside of law school."

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