The path to becoming an attorney is filled with barriers but many of which make little to no sense. For example, when you are in college, your major has nothing to do with being a lawyer. In fact, if you do major in pre-law it can work against you. Many college advisors will tell students to take writing courses to do better in law school. From there we have a 4-step process which is most easily placed in baseball terms. First base, second, third and then you finally make it home but the journey has more movement than a Phil Niekro knuckle ball. Let’s break it apart:
First base: The LSAT. The Law School Admissions Test is what is measured to allow students into law school. The test itself carries much more weight that one’s grade point average.
The path to becoming an attorney requires graduating from law school and passing the bar exam. According to their website, (www.lsac.org) the LSAT is the only test accepted by all ABA-accredited law schools, and it is the only test that helps candidates determine if law school is right for them. Ironically, the LSAT has next to nothing to do with getting to second base.
Second Base: Law School. Law school is what one has to overcome to sit for the bar exam. In law school, if one has a 2.00 grade point average or higher, they are eligible to sit for the bar exam. In the early to mid-2000’s, school as the Thomas M. Cooley School of Law (www.cooley.edu) had a model where many people did not obtain that grade point average. Other schools such as the University of Michigan Law School (www.law.umich.edu) almost guaranteed the law student the opportunity to sit for the Michigan Bar Exam (www.michbar.org) and this was based on higher score on the LSAT. While it takes dedication to make it through law school, one’s academic achievement during those three years does not equate to passing a bar exam.
Third Base: The Bar Exam: The bar exam is two days of testing your ability of what is supposed to be a minimum knowledge of the field of law. To pass the bar exam, companies such as Kaplan (www.kaplan.com), BARBRI, (www.barbri.com) and Reed Bar Review (www.reedbarreview.com) stand out from the crowd. While the lessons learned in bar exam preparation play a role in the admittance to practice law, there have no real effect on how what it takes to win a criminal trial. In fact, most things learned in law school play very little role in having a successful practice. This leads to many lawyers that excelled in law school to become failures in practice.
Home Plate: The Practice of Law: After you obtain the score needed on the LSAT, then earn the GPA needed to sit for the bar exam and then you pass that test, you get to practice law (if you pass character and fitness but that is a story for another time). Sadly, the practice of law chews up and spits out many that were stars of the classroom. This leads us to the question: Why is this process in place and does the process actually prepare one for their career? To gain insight on this topic, we spoke to a number of lawyers in the State of Michigan. These attorneys will discuss each of the topics listed above.
Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of McManus and Amadeo is Ann Arbor, Michigan. McManus is known as one of the top business attorney’s in the State of Michigan and provided his insight on the LSAT when he stated, “The test has zero indication of how one will do in law school but is what we need to get into the club. It would make much more sense if we had a shadowing program where a student learns from individuals in the field. I also feel that an interview process should carry more weight than an antiquated test.”
Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo and is known as one of the top family law attorneys in the State of Michigan. Kelley spoke about law school when she added, “Law School did not prepare you for the practice of law. I had many great professors at Cooley but I imagine one day in the near future there will be a lawsuit because there is not one law school that teaches you how to be a lawyer. You only learn from practice. I loved my time in law school but it was far from a true preparation for what was to come and had little to do with passing the bar exam.”
Scott Grabel is the founder of Grabel and Associates in Lansing, Michigan and runs one of the top criminal defense firms in the State of Michigan. Grabel spoke of the bar exam when he said, “The bar exam was simply the final tool to the practice of law but has zero to do with litigation. It’s a test that requires discipline but it is far from an indicator of the success that you will have in the field of law.”
William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo and a Senior Associate for Grabel and Associates. Amadeo is known as one of the top criminal lawyers in the State of Michigan and added his thoughts on the practice of law. Amadeo replied, “It’s amazing how this process is in place. Nothing on the LSAT helps you succeed in law school, little in law school helps prep you for the bar exam, the bar exam has no impact on the practice of law. It is almost as if there is a money grab everywhere you look. If we want to make better lawyers, we need to teach students to practice, not simply theory. The system needs a major overhaul.”
With COVID-19 on the rise and the field of law evolving, change may be coming in a number of different ways. While education will always be respected, the question in the field of law is whether or not academics is truly impactful?