Sunday, July 06, 2008

Crossing the bar

Crossing the Bar

Whew. My recent post regarding bar exam preparation now represents merely one link in a very long string of blog posts. Nancy Rapoport has responded to Ilya Somin's latest thoughts on the bar exam. With approval (more or less) Nancy summarizes Ilya's main points:
(1) figure out your own, best way of studying and key your bar prep to that, (2) try not to overstress, (3) be disciplined in your studying, and (4) remember that failing the bar exam is not the end of the world.
Nancy continues to disagree with Ilya on one point: "how risk-averse the average law graduate should be when preparing for the bar."

Each bar candidate's degree of risk aversion, I think, hinges on what is personally at stake. As Scott Greenfield has said in this forum, for some candidates, it really is "just one more test." Many law professors — yes, Ilya, this was the point of my original anti-bourgeois outburst — belonged to that category even before they secured tenure-track teaching jobs. Most law students need to pass the bar in order to eat, let alone retire educational debts.

Supreme CourtAt the other end of the spectrum, elite students will also find it worth their while to pass every bar they take. Within the hypothetical list from which a Democratic President might draw Supreme Court nominees, two names would give the President pause. Both Hillary Clinton and Kathleen Sullivan have flunked a bar exam. I admire them both; Kathleen Sullivan in particular is the best lawyer from whom I've ever taken a class. (Parlor game: Who would you want representing you before the high court if your freedom or possession of the White House hung in the balance? I'm going with my old criminal law/criminal procedure professor.) It causes me great pain to imagine how a President might bypass either of these Supreme Court prospects because of the way the nominee's bar exam failure would affect the confirmation hearings. Although both Sullivan and Clinton are eminently qualified to be Supreme Court Justices, their bar exam failures would give hostile Senators some pretext besides ideology to withhold their advice and consent.

The upshot: even if you have enough family wealth and/or personal arrogance to mock the bar and other people's putative over-preparation for that ordeal, it's worth putting in the extra effort to avoid creating fodder for a hypothetical Senate confirmation hearing you might like to survive someday.

Then again, as the Wall Street Journal noted when it reported Kathleen Sullivan's failure, bombing the California bar is no barrier to a career in public service:
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.
At bottom, passing — or "crossing," if you prefer — the bar is a significant achievement, worth celebrating without regard to age or prestige. What happened for 18-year-old Kathleen Holtz is what I would have wished for Kathleen Sullivan in 2005: passing the bar on her first try.

And with that, I offer bar candidates coast to coast some multimedia inspired by Lord Alfred Tennyson's Crossing the Bar:

Crossing the Bar

Lord Tennyson
Sunset and evening star,
  And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
  When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
  Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
  Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
  And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
  When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
  The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
  When I have crossed the bar.


Blogger Nancy Rapoport said...

Thanks, Jim! What I'd love to hear next is some war stories from folks who didn't pass the bar on the first try and how that affected their lives. I've watched firsthand how my husband sweated out two bars (and he's one of the smartest people I know) because, in both cases, not passing would have had serious job consequences for him. Let's see what the data will show.

7/07/2008 12:06 PM  

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