The Bar Exam: Should It Be Abolished?

Summer sucked.


The weather wasn’t great, but it’s not the traditional summer complaints of heat and sunburn that I’m referring to. My summer sucked because my fiancé was confined to a mere 8×10 foot room for over 350 hours this summer.


Two simple words can explain this desolate situation: The Bar.

What is the Bar Exam?

In the Spring, my fiancé graduated from law school and landed a top tier job as a tax attorney. Despite his three years of hard work, making the grades, and landing the job, he is still forced to undergo an additional level of (expensive) scrutiny so he can practice law.


The Bar, formally titled the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), is a standardized test law school graduates must take to test knowledge and skills “that every lawyer should have before being licensed to practice law.” The exam is administered for two days with a juxtaposition of essays and multiple-choice questions separated into three parts. It tests individuals on their knowledge on all thirty plus legal subjects, regardless of which you plan to practice in.


The two days to take the exam, which seems like ample opportunity to pace oneself, actually furthers the criticism. Yet, with the requirements, amount of questions and essay inclusion, the time allotted for each question is just under two minutes. The Bar measures quick decisions rather than actual knowledge.


The extensive material students must memorize and the quick thinking needed translates to studying as a full-time job. My fiancé studied for 8-10 hours every day with no weekends off. The test’s demands are prohibitive to those who are less financially advantaged than others from taking the needed time to study for the exam. How is one supposed to afford rent, groceries, a car payment, the cost for prep courses (with prep courses totaling well over $1,600), and the exam itself without the ability to work? The test intensifies the barriers to finding a job in the legal career.


Lawyers Don’t Need the Bar

The Bar Exam is a significant and unjust barrier to entry.


However, this abhorrent requirement is nothing new for policymakers. The exam is just another example of occupational licensing prohibiting access to careers and market competition. The Bar Exam discredits experience and simply asks students how well of a test taker they are. No respectable lawyer will go into trial relying solely on their memory. Those who mandate the exam are aware of this.


Policymakers often design license restrictions such as these to work this way. The regulations come from institutions designed to protect existing jobs and restrict the ability to remove poor performers. This manipulates the free-market. Limiting the number of specialists in a field enables those who have obtained their “permission slip” to charge high prices and limit available options for consumers. Adam Smith was the first to notice this phenomenon in 1776. He found that professions collaborated to reduce the availability of skilled workers to raise personal wages.


Those who aim to defend restrictive licensure claim it protects the status of their career and ensures ethical practices. Yet, this ignores the successes of every other profession that does not require licenses and maintains quality service for its consumers.


It’s Time for a Change

Requirements of the bar exam tell students that their hard work and thousands of dollars in law school are not enough. So, if the schooling isn’t what will allow you to practice, why try? If it comes down to one simple test that will make or break you over something so trivial as memorization what’s the point? I can’t imagine the level of defeat and stress students feel when graduation leads to the impending doom of the Bar.


We consider our lawyers as the problem solvers of the world. It is past time they solve this one.



Jessica Dobrinsky is the Policy Development Associate for the Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy.