The California State Bar Association initiated a major change this week, dramatically shortening the three-day bar exam to two days, beginning July 2017. The first day will feature five essays instead of the previous six, as well as a 90-minute performance exam to replace the previous three-hour exercise. The second day will be taken up by the Multistate Bar Exam, which will account for 50% of the grade. The Bar seems to have been motivated by a combination of improved efficiency and relieving the test-takers of some of the considerable stress of the exam.

Image of graduates about to throw their caps in the air with the caption, law graduateSo the graduates should have an easier time fighting for their admission to the bar, assuming they are good at multiple-guess tests, which the Multistate exam is. Not-so-good essay writing will now be balanced somewhat by good performance on the multiple choices. And which of us lawyers wasn’t stressed out by the grueling three-day ordeal? While I sympathize with the newly minted graduates, my concern is much greater for the welfare of the public that is served by lawyers. The goal of legal education andordeal-by-exam is not, after all, to reward law students with a potentially satisfying careerand a path to financial success. Rather, the purpose is—or should be—to provide highly qualified legal practitioners to handle the increasingly complex matters that their clients put in their hands. What makes a highly qualified practicing lawyer? Aside from excellent character, good moral judgment, integrity, honesty, conscientiousness, and other intangibles, good lawyers write very well—which means they think clearly, organize their thoughts, and put them on paper persuasively. Good lawyers also handle stress with aplomb; for many thousands of attorneys, “stress” might as well be their middle name: if they can’t manage or even thrive under it, they’re in the wrong business, and their clients suffer.

 The State Bar already does precious little to filter out the bad guys (and gals) who don’t cut it in the “intangibles” department; peruse sometime the lengthy rolls of disciplined lawyers, many of whom have been penalized multiple times. I wonder if the State Bar is serving California’s clients of tomorrow by also de-emphasizing new graduates’ academic ability, requiring less writing, less analysis, and less judgment, and more rote memory and guesswork. The plethora of law schools in this state, many of which are in the business of selling degrees to unimpressive students whom no knowledgeable person would hire, warrant more, not fewer, hoops for lawyer wannabes to jump through. I hope the State Bar knows something that I don’t.