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Few attorneys think of ourselves as powerful members of an exclusive cartel, but that’s what we are. The global coronavirus pandemic, and the needs created by resulting shifts in how we live, work and earn, have catalyzed a radical reassessment of practices taken for granted for too long. The bar exam, which secures the interests of our cartel, is ripe for a change.

Lawyers and law professors understand the bar exam is more rite of passage than test of competence. Now, it poses an unnecessary barrier to entry for third-year law students who are burdened by shelter-in-place requirements, financial pressures and psychological stress. Rather than protecting the public, the bar exam constricts the supply of attorneys, fueling the crisis of access to justice plaguing California’s most vulnerable. When we eliminate the bar exam, the remaining measures the State Bar uses to filter for competent, moral attorneys will better protect the interests of the public than keeping the exam does. Eliminating the exam is simply the right thing to do.

At best, the bar exam is a poor filter for competence and a rite of passage for young lawyers. At worst, it is an insidious form of security theater whose ostensible, noble purpose in protecting the public conceals the actual role the exam plays: protecting the financial interests of a cartel of established lawyers by constraining supply (and thus driving up the hourly rate we can charge). The latest research indicates that “over 20 million Californians—at all income levels—lack access to legal services.” Letting in thousands of legally educated, practice-trained young people willing to work for less would be a boon for the public and increase price and quality competition within the profession.

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