California Bar Journal
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Leave the bar exam alone

The bar examination need not be made easier: 78.6 percent of ABA-grad first-time applicants pass, making the exam about average nationally and much easier than, say, Arkan-sas (58 percent). Instead, the committee should eliminate the lag-time between graduation and exam and use only the performance test format, which evaluates the skills lawyers actually use. This also would end the lengthy idling of law graduates and eliminate the parasitic bar review industry.

Robert Little
Memphis, Tenn.

Study harder to pass

It seems to me that the "grueling" experience of the exam is not so much about the exam itself, but, like the successful practice of law, more about the level of preparation going into it. I was lucky enough to have people who warned me of the three-day marathon, and that it was not to be taken lightly on either an intellectual or physical basis.

Any lawyer I've ever asked has agreed the practice of law is dramatically more difficult than attending law school, so why shouldn't the bar exam be measurably more onerous than finals week? 

If the test is to be shortened, surely there should be definitive reasons related to the needs of the public or the profession, not merely to reduce the stress and costs of taking the test. I say keep it as it is, and let the takers know what they're in for. Whether they become future litigators or corporate attorneys, they may just look back and realize that it wasn't so bad after all.

Brian J. Purtill
Santa Rosa

Make the bar exam harder

The fact that there are so many repeat takers is not a reflection on the test. Applicants take and fail the exam repeatedly because they can.

The fact that the exam is reputed to be difficult adds to the value of passing it. What the committee should do is not make the exam easier to pass, but harder. They should limit both the number and frequency of times an applicant can take it. Takers should not be permitted to fail over and over and over again. There should be a waiting period and a cut-off period.

Julia Briscoe
Los Angeles

Sleight of hand

The latest membership fee statement lists the membership fee as $390 but then provides a laundry list of matters that can increase or decrease the cost. However, while the Keller lobbying deduction (#19) and bias/bar relations deduction (#20) are discussed in detail in the "Adjust-ments" section, the conference of delegates (#17) and State Bar Foundation (#18) "add ons" are not. Instead, the bar has inserted what appear to be mandatory fees for these two items into the fee statement. Only a careful reading of the left side of the statement shows that these items are, in fact, suggested donations, not mandatory fees.

No matter how you slice and dice it, by inserting a sum into the cost column, the bar hoped bar members would just add up the numbers and pay the numbers. They have lost any donation from me to either of these endeavors, and I hope many other bar members will zero them out as well.

Dan Doogan

Dishonest fee statement

The bar's entire attitude about the fee statement is disingenous. A "negative checkoff" is inherently dishonest since it essentially invites persons to pay the base fee.

In other contexts (e.g. college registration fees benefiting various causes), the beneficiaries of negative checkoffs have fought hard against the abolishment of this practice because they know very well that without a negative checkoff system, people will often decide to pay less. The "study" that the bar paid our dues money to conduct appears to be a ploy to justify this practice. I cannot say that I appreciate the bar spending dues money to provide a smoke screen for an inherently bad practice.

Roger J. Buffington

Solos are just as good

Justice Rylaarsdam's implication (December) that sole practitioners are generally less qualified than attorneys in large firms is offensive. His proposal that the profession might benefit if new attorneys were required to participate in an apprenticeship program might have merit. However, his assumption that the best and brightest law graduates gravitate to large firms, leaving only the desperate dregs to hang out their own shingles, does a disservice to a great number of highly qualified attorneys who choose to practice on their own or in small groups.

The disproportionately low number of disciplinary actions against members of large firms might just as well be explained by those firms' greater ability to conceal ineptitude, their diffusion of responsibility or their capacity to mollify disgruntled clients.

Michael R. Berger

Success led to this shingle

I believe that an apprenticeship is something all should be required to do as law students in the last year of schooling. However, I take grave offense to the implication that those who hang out their own shingle did not do well in school. Quite the contrary. Those who hang out their own shingle have a myriad of reasons for doing so, the least of which was poor academic performance.

I speak from my own experience. I chose to avoid the large firms and commensurate salary because my priorities were other than a marriage to my job. We single-shinglers have the freedom to create our own work and exercise schedules, take vacations on our own calendar, spend time with our families when they need it and not when it's convenient for the firm, and generally lead a more normal, natural and enjoyable life. And, in no small way does this have anything to do with academic failure. It has to do with academic success.

Sandra Locke
San Diego

Homophobia creates fear

The recent California Bar Journal survey produced a surprising number of complaints about the question on sexual orientation. I believe that many of those who objected to the question did so out of personal prejudice. Frankly, it is ironic that professionals who make their living by asking and answering questions would object to a simple question about sexual orientation. Your responses alone tell us a great deal about a profession with great privilege and responsibility not yet grasping that such open hostility or basic ignorance of their gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender  colleagues and clients compromises their ability to fulfill their obligations as licensed officers of the court.

What are you afraid of? What harm is done in asking this question? Can you possibly imagine limiting discovery or questioning because you didn't like the subject matter of the question? Silencing us, ignoring us or denying us our rights is not the way to resolve your fears. Getting to know us and at least tolerating us will make this a stronger profession for all attorneys and their clients.

Bob Doyle
Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination

Flawed numbers of disabled

The Committee of Legal Professionals with Disabilities found the November article, "Survey finds bar makeup is shifting, but slowly," to misrepresent the facts as to disabled attorneys. The statement, "The number of gay or disabled lawyers in California is about the same as 10 years ago" is based only on a survey of those who consider themselves physically disabled and exclusive of all other non-physical disabilities, such as mental, emotional or developmental.

A preferable alternative to the question asked would be, "do you have (1) a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities; (2) have a record of such an impairment; or (3) are regarded as having such an impairment?"

The survey findings also tend to conflict with more reliable or established surveys such as the U.S. Census Bureau which states that in 1997, 19.7 percent of the total U.S. population had some "type of disability," 12.3 percent have a "severe disability" and 3.8 percent need "personal assistance."

Patric Weddle
Committee on Legal Professionals with Disabilities