I have been reading with some morbid fascination about the California bar exam pass rates, as reported by Above the Law.
According to their report, the most recent overall test scores are pathetic. The latest pass rate was a lousy 34.5 percent, and for first time takers it was 39 percent!
Now, the whole process of going through with a bar exam is supposed to be brutal. I went through it myself in a jurisdiction where the vast majority of people passed the first time, including myself. But it was still a harrowing process for everyone involved, with everyone killing themselves studying for it. We had to write three exams over three days, if you can believe that. If that’s what goes on here in frozen Canada, where the bar exam is supposed to be semi-reasonable, then you cannot even imagine what people go through trying to pass California’s awful exam.
I almost wonder what these bar examiners are trying to prove! Couldn’t they come up with something that people are actually capable of passing the first time, without them having to waste their time and money retaking it over and over again? (Among other things, the bar-prep study courses alone cost something like $3,000.) Or maybe they simply want to keep the unwashed masses out of California and make them go to Montana or North Dakota instead.
What’s especially sad is that of all the jurisdictions where I personally would be the most interested in being admitted as a lawyer (if I ever decided to go back to it), California would rank right up there, simply because I’d want to live the “Entourage” lifestyle and enjoy the sunny weather and the beach.
Well, there’s that, plus there is the potential number of rich celebrities who might make up your clientele if you were to practice divorce law or something like that (ie. Laura Wasser).
Then again, I also hear practicing law in California is just as lousy and cutthroat as in any other jurisdiction, anyway. In fact, I know of a couple of people from my own law school class who, no joke, actually went down there and got admitted to the bar in the state of California! How they managed to get through that state’s lousy bar exam, I don’t know, because to me it sure looks like climbing Mt. Everest is easier.
I dunno why I still read Above the Law, because its news about the legal profession is usually so depressing, but that is how I learned that Joe Jamail, billionaire Houston plaintiffs lawyer, had died, aged 90.
I later found this Texas Monthly profile of Jamail and you cannot help but be inspired by his story — rising from an F in torts in law school to great heights in tort law — and about his big cases, including his famous victory in Pennzoil v. Texaco. This is the way practising law ought to be done — by taking the battle into the courts by going after the bad guys, not sitting there wasting away in an office cranking out billable hours for “The Man.”
Also, this guy’s career is more proof the legal profession, like most things, is simply bigger in Texas.
Just for laughs I tuned in tonight to Bad Judge on NBC starring Kate Walsh.
I am usually interested in these lawyer shows given my own ties to the legal profession and the fact that I am in court a lot as part of my job. Anyway, this show didn’t hold my interest for more than a few minutes before I returned to watching the baseball playoffs.
It seems like other folks weren’t impressed either, like here at Grantland.
I got the distinct impression Bad Judge got all its inspiration from the movie Bad Teacher that starred Cameron Diaz. Here, Walsh plays a similar personality in Rebecca Wright, a Southern California judge who is a sloppy, hard-drinking, sexoholic, total loser.
My reaction is to ask how the heck she got herself into law school, let alone appointed to the bench, because most judges I’ve seen are nothing like this.
Come to think of it, it is all too common on these lawyer shows to have on there, ahem, interesting characters like this. The fact is that the legal profession is notorious for being overrun by uptight personalities. You wouldn’t see Judge Wright, or those cool dudes Franklin and Bash or any of David E. Kelley’s characters (Ally McBeal comes to mind) in the real world at any of these firms or on the bench. Ally McBeal and her daydreams about dancing babies would have been put out of her misery very quickly at a real law firm, I guarantee you that.
You know what? This is exactly the problem with the legal profession as it is — something about these law firms doesn’t seem to allow for much diversity in personalities. In short, the most interesting a person you are, the less likely these firms will be so interested in you. How many punk rockers with the big hair do you see as “BigLaw” corporate lawyers? That’s my point. (Come to think of it, this is a good TV show idea.)
Most associates can only wish the legal profession, and the personalities of more of the people in it, was more like what you see in TV because the reality is it just isn’t as interesting in real life.
I like to help lawyers escape their miserable lives and pursue other careers. So, here’s a recent article at Legal Nomads focusing on journalist Erin Geiger Smith, whose journalism work included the law blog at Business Insider and also work for Reuters before becoming a freelance journalist. In this article she talks about how she made the switch.
It is part of the site’s Thrillable Hours series focusing on alternative careers for lawyers.
The site’s founder Jodi Ettenberg is a Canadian who up and quit law in order to travel and eat food around the world and blog about it. Anyway, I offer that article up just to let you know there are options out there for you lawyers who may be disillusioned with your current path and want better lives.
(As an aside, I spent one miserable year as a law firm articling student doing mainly family law, which was definitely not what I had signed up for when I went to law school. Now, I interview premiers, cabinet ministers and mayors for a living and even get paid to cover hockey games. Fun stuff.)