Kim K., Esq., and the Merits of an Unconventional Legal Education

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Em Carpenter

Em was one of those argumentative children who was sarcastically encouraged to become a lawyer, so she did. She is a proud life-long West Virginian, and, paradoxically, a liberal. In addition to writing about society, politics and culture, she enjoys cooking, podcasts, reading, and pretending to be a runner. She will correct your grammar. You can find her on Twitter.

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20 Responses

  1. Avatar Jaybird says:

    It’s good that California does that.

    More states should do that.Report

  2. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    The California Bar passage rate is so low because California allows people who attend non-accredited law schools and people whom don’t attend law school at all to take the bar. The number of people who pass the bar doing the “reading the law” ways is very low. IIRC the number of people that pass the Baby Bar is very low.

    The quality of these unaccredited lawschools seems to vary wildly. Some seem pretty good but dedicated to teaching non-traditional students at night. Others have names like the “People’s college of Law” and seem to go into righteous fury when their students don’t pass the bar.

    To be absolutely fair, a lot of accredited law schools have seen their bar passage rates plummet over the last few years because they lowered admissions standards to keep doors and enrollment at pre-crash levels. My alma mater went from having 75 percent pass on their first time around my time studying to way under 40 percent passing most recently. It’s embarrassing.Report

    • To me, that’s an argument for allowing people to read the law as an alternative track. Presumably, the bar exams weeds out the unqualified persons.

      Of course, it’s also an argument to try to do something about the very low-quality schools you mention. And maybe we need to reconsider how the bar functions.Report

  3. Avatar Jaybird says:

    So I found myself wondering “huh… how much does it cost to take the bar?”

    According to Google, about $5,800.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Jaybird says:

      No. If Google told you that, Google lied.

      In California, the baby bar costs $624 (if you register timely) and the actual bar costs $677 for a law student applicant.

      That’s in California. As I’ve learned to my irritation, your mileage may vary in other states. I am going to have to take the bar exam in Oregon, as my license from California does not give me reciprocity in order to be able to practice here. That set me back $1,175 and nearly two entire days of paperwork.Report

      • Matthew J. Luther Matthew J. Luther in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I suspect Google is assuming that the applicant would pay for Barbri or some other prep course, which will set you back about $3k at the low end.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

        When I google “how much does it cost to take the bar in California”, it shows me this:

        Students are urged to plan for the expense of taking the bar exam. Fees and costs will vary depending on the state in which you take the test. For students taking the California Bar Exam, you should plan on putting aside about $5,800, not including living expenses. The California Bar fees below are all current as of October 2016. Please note that fees escalate quickly if the application is filed after the deadline.

        If that assumes a lot of expenses that aren’t part of taking the actual test and the real answer is “$1300”?

        Dude, that’s *AWESOME*.

        Not that $1300 is a trifle or anything but that’s something that a determined person might be able to scrape together for themselves a lot easier than six grand.

        More states should do that.Report

        • Avatar Em Carpenter in reply to Jaybird says:

          I can’t remember how much my bar exam cost but I was thinking maybe $3-400. I checked, and it’s currently $500, so I am probably not too far off in my memory (from 15 years ago.) Then there’s another fee for the MPRE (ethics exam) but it’s much less, currently $125.
          The bar prep course I took was a lot more. They set tables up at 1L orientation and advise you to sign up and start making payments then. I think it was around $2000 for me back then. I also ended up taking out a $10K “Board and Bar” loan, which is for law and med students, intended to be money to live on while studying for the bar/medical boards so you can focus your time and attention. It was a SallieMae.Report

  4. Avatar InMD says:

    You missed the smartest angle to this approach. No student loans.Report

    • Avatar Em Carpenter in reply to InMD says:

      I definitely thought about that! But I didn’t want to get into the whole thing, when those are obviously not an issue for Mrs. West. Definitely a plus though. I really like this model. I think maybe a bachelor’s degree should be the minimum, but I can’t really justify my thinking on that. Probably just my bias.Report

  5. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    This is similar in a lot of ways to the Professional Engineer exam. If you don’t have the degree, you can take the Fundamentals of Engineering/Engineer-in-Training exam (FE/EIT), which will allow an engineering firm/department to hire you on as an apprentice. After 4 years of work for the firm, you can sit for the PE exam. Once you have the PE, you can work as an engineer, no degree needed.

    PS Good on Ms. West for not settling on just being an empty figurehead.Report

    • One of the differences between the bar and the PE exam is that there are an enormous number of engineering jobs that don’t require the PE. Certainly the vast majority of engineers I’ve known in my life never sat for the PE, they worked as employees of companies like Bell Labs or Motorola. I’d be willing to bet a sizeable sum that when the next Falcon Heavy puts a communications satellite into geosynchronous orbit, very little of the rocket or satellite design was done or overseen by PEs.

      Software has managed to avoid the PE thing. You can get a PE in software engineering today, but no state has been willing to require it for people to put out a shingle.Report

      • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Michael Cain says:

        True, you only have to sit for a PE for certain Civil and Mechanical Engineering positions (e.g. people who sign off on public works engineering drawings).

        But sitting for the PE is the one way to become an engineer without going to an accredited university. That path to professional qualification still exists.Report

  6. Avatar George Turner says:

    Why doesn’t Kim just contact the folks involved in the college applications scandal? They’re bound to have some sneaky way for a practicing lawyer take the bar exam for her, or to at least correct some of her answers.

    She’s rich and famous. She shouldn’t have to compete on a level playing field.Report

  7. Tracy Downey Tracy Downey says:

    Your generosity to her is appealing and inspires me to take the high road with this one.Report

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