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The California Bar Exam

Monday, December 5, 2005  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

How about publishing your failure to pass the Bar Exam on the front page of the world’s most widely read newspaper? From the Wall Street Journal’s front page this morning:

Kathleen Sullivan is a noted constitutional scholar who has argued cases before the Supreme Court. Until recently, she was dean of Stanford Law School. In legal circles, she has been talked about as a potential Democratic nominee for the Supreme Court. But Ms. Sullivan recently became the latest prominent victim of California’s notoriously difficult bar exam. Last month, the state sent out the results of its July test to 8,343 aspiring and already-practicing lawyers. More than half failed — including Ms. Sullivan.

Although she is licensed to practice law in New York and Massachusetts, Ms. Sullivan was taking the California exam for the first time after joining a Los Angeles-based firm as an appellate specialist.

The California bar exam has created misery for thousands of aspiring and practicing lawyers. Former California Gov. Jerry Brown passed on his second try, while former Gov. Pete Wilson needed four attempts. The recently elected mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio R. Villaraigosa, never did pass the bar after failing four times.

I think we have to agree with lawyer William Urquhart, who commented: “The problem is not with Kathleen Sullivan, it is with the person who drafted the exam or the person who graded it.” This absurd result underscores how the Bar Exam functions well for new graduates of law school, but is primarily a restraint on competition for lawyers who have passed and successfully practiced for a number of years in other states.

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