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With bar passage rates dropping nationwide, it’s clear that aspects of the process for testing would-be lawyers could use some first aid. At an Association of American Law Schools panel Wednesday, several legal professors suggested that the industry could literally look to medicine for a solution — specifically, to medical schools and the structure of medical licensing exams.

Medical professions require students to get far more hands-on experience before they receive a license than the legal profession does, NYU School of Law professor Claudia Angelos said. Doctors and dentists must spend at least 50 percent of their time in medical school practicing on patients. For lawyers, it’s 7 percent.

As it’s currently structured, the bar exam tests takers’ ability to memorize knowledge about many specific topics — something Angelos says she believes lawyers should be able to do, but aren’t often called upon to do in practice.

“It may not be necessary that they be able to do this on 18 subjects,” she said.

The medical licensing process consists of three exams: one taken at the end of the second year of medical school, which focuses on students’ understanding of basic science concepts; one taken after the third year, which focuses on diagnosis and disease prevention; and one taken after the first year of residency, which focuses on patient management and includes case simulations. Joan W. Howarth, a former dean and current professor at Michigan State University College of Law, and Dr. Molly Cooke, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, suggested that a similarly structured bar exam might do a better job of testing the skills future lawyers will need in their careers.

“It recognizes more than your system does that professional practice across a wide range of practices is increasingly specialized,” Cooke said.

The cost of offering students the clinical experience that they’d need to prepare for a medical-style exam might be a stumbling block for some schools, UC Irvine Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said. In the past, it’s cost universities relatively little to provide legal education, since one professor can lecture to many students. More hands-on training will likely require more resources, he said.

“How are the costs of clinical education handled in medical schools, and can law schools learn anything from that?” he asked. “Every student at Irvine has to participate in a legal clinic, but then, they allocated money to do that.”

Chemerinsky argued that there’s a disconnect between the people who write the bar exam and law schools. When he attended the National Conference of Bar Examiners last year, he said he saw only a few law professors who were invited as guests.

Law schools’ struggle to raise bar passage rates gained urgency in October, when the American Bar Association council approved a more demanding law school accreditation standard on bar passage rates. Now 75 percent of a school’s bar takers must pass the bar within five years. Howard University School of Law Dean Danielle Holley-Walker said that change places an undue burden on Howard University and other minority-serving institutions, since there’s a test score gap between law graduates of color and white law graduates. Howard University sometimes accepts “untraditional” students who may have lower test scores because of their commitment to social justice, she said. The new standard will make it harder for schools to do that.

“The ABA says it values diversity,” she said. “Don’t be fooled, this will have serious consequences on minority admission to law schools.”

With bar passage rates dropping nationwide, it’s clear that aspects of the process for testing would-be lawyers could use some first aid. At an Association of American Law Schools panel Wednesday, several legal professors suggested that the industry could literally look to medicine for a solution — specifically, to medical schools and the structure of medical licensing exams.

Medical professions require students to get far more hands-on experience before they receive a license than the legal profession does, NYU School of Law professor Claudia Angelos said. Doctors and dentists must spend at least 50 percent of their time in medical school practicing on patients. For lawyers, it’s 7 percent.

As it’s currently structured, the bar exam tests takers’ ability to memorize knowledge about many specific topics — something Angelos says she believes lawyers should be able to do, but aren’t often called upon to do in practice.

“It may not be necessary that they be able to do this on 18 subjects,” she said.

The medical licensing process consists of three exams: one taken at the end of the second year of medical school, which focuses on students’ understanding of basic science concepts; one taken after the third year, which focuses on diagnosis and disease prevention; and one taken after the first year of residency, which focuses on patient management and includes case simulations. Joan W. Howarth, a former dean and current professor at Michigan State University College of Law , and Dr. Molly Cooke, a professor at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, suggested that a similarly structured bar exam might do a better job of testing the skills future lawyers will need in their careers.

“It recognizes more than your system does that professional practice across a wide range of practices is increasingly specialized,” Cooke said.

The cost of offering students the clinical experience that they’d need to prepare for a medical-style exam might be a stumbling block for some schools, UC Irvine Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky said. In the past, it’s cost universities relatively little to provide legal education, since one professor can lecture to many students. More hands-on training will likely require more resources, he said.

“How are the costs of clinical education handled in medical schools, and can law schools learn anything from that?” he asked. “Every student at Irvine has to participate in a legal clinic, but then, they allocated money to do that.”

Chemerinsky argued that there’s a disconnect between the people who write the bar exam and law schools. When he attended the National Conference of Bar Examiners last year, he said he saw only a few law professors who were invited as guests.

Law schools’ struggle to raise bar passage rates gained urgency in October, when the American Bar Association council approved a more demanding law school accreditation standard on bar passage rates. Now 75 percent of a school’s bar takers must pass the bar within five years. Howard University School of Law Dean Danielle Holley-Walker said that change places an undue burden on Howard University and other minority-serving institutions, since there’s a test score gap between law graduates of color and white law graduates. Howard University sometimes accepts “untraditional” students who may have lower test scores because of their commitment to social justice, she said. The new standard will make it harder for schools to do that.

“The ABA says it values diversity,” she said. “Don’t be fooled, this will have serious consequences on minority admission to law schools.”