Recently, I took a public speaking commitment. It was just one of those things: I expounded on the subject matter I was expected to cover and—just like that!—I let it slip that I was a practicing attorney.
Immediately at the conclusion of my talk, I was mobbed by members of the audience. They had nothing to say about my speech. They wanted legal advice.
The first one had a tax problem. I listened to him politely for six or seven anxious minutes before interjecting that I didn’t do that kind of law. He pressed on, explaining that he just needed a little assistance with the IRS. Again, I said that I was not a tax lawyer. In fact, when confronted with, say, a 1040-EZ form, I begin hyperventilating and humming “la, la, la, la, la,” whilst searching madly about the place for chocolate.
The next person had a housing question. I seem to remember something about a “bad landlord,” and a refrigerator that had to be evacuated from the building via a fourth-story window, but I digress. Frozen items which did not belong in a refrigerator, such as pipes, were also mentioned. To this individual, I gave the same explanation, adding, in hopes of discouraging him, that if I expressed an opinion, I would be committing legal malpractice.
There was a smattering of questions involving family law: divorce and child custody. There was profuse and articulate vilification of a partner. With regret, I repeated that this was not my practice area. The last person to seek my help wanted me to give it free. He had a DUI.
The onslaught of inquiries felt a little to me like speed dating, not that I have ever tried this: you get five minutes to pitch your case to someone who may or may not have the legal or romantic expertise, to say nothing of legal or romantic willingness, to pursue a “partnership.” On the way home, I found a half-eaten Milky Way in the compartment between the front seats. As I ate it, I began thinking, always a dangerous proposition.
The experience reminded me of the remote past, when I had to learn something about everything for the express purpose of proving that I either knew it cold or could figure it out. These things included snippets of the Uniform Commercial Code, the Rule Against Perpetuities, adverse possession and other aspects of law which I would never use, and would just as soon have forgotten. This, of course, was the bar exam.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that my recent postevent foggy mountain breakdown of legal questions was actually what the bar examination was trying to accomplish: a real-life assessment of legal responses to genuine problems presented by people in need.
In keeping with the perceived need to transform the focus of legal education from the theoretical to the practical, I propose the following changes to the Connecticut bar examination. It would be called the “All-New, Organic Situational Assessment of the Legal Problems of Real People.”
Like the traditional bar examination, it would be held in a large room with monitors. Everyone would get a desk and a laptop. No. 2 pencils and little bubbles to color in would become extinct. The room would be opened to members of the public, who would circulate to each candidate, seeking an answer to his or her pressing legal issue. No more than five minutes would be allotted for the description of the legal issue; students would be given 15 minutes to research each dilemma and produce a solution, or at least a recommendation. Then each “client” would move on to the next, uh, victim, to press his tale of woe. Laptops would be collected at the end of the session to review the process used by each aspirant.
For the essay portion, everyone should be asked to write something about the law. All that would be required was that it be funny.•