The bar exam: a rite of passage for young lawyers, a hazing ritual that has very little to do with practice skills, a known mechanism of racial discrimination….and, at this time, an unavoidable part of legal licensing.
A lengthy critique of the bar exam is far beyond the scope of this page but is available virtually anywhere you look.
CUNY Law, in setting out to be a different kind of law school, has run up hard against the regressive, memorization-over-skills focus of the bar exam. Coupling this with its access mission – accepting more students of color and lower-SES students, two groups the bar exam is biased against – it makes sense that CUNY Law’s strength is not necessarily in bar passage. However, the profession is the profession, and bar passage is one of the most important factors in a school’s accreditation as well as its practicality. If a person cannot pass the bar exam, they cannot practice, no matter how awesome an attorney they will be.
This is a pragmatic view. There are many people inside the CUNY Law institution, now and in the past, who would rather see the school give the middle finger to such a racist and antiquated exam and continue to churn out good lawyers rather than merely lawyers who can pass the bar. Unsurprisingly, the institution has seen it differently, and the cycle continues: students’ bar passage rate dips; CUNY Law enforces ever-more-draconian academic requirements; students protest as these requirements often unfairly target people of color; the school adds back programs designed to support students, such as bar mentors, CORE/ALA, and so forth.
Some of the most heartfelt organizing has happened at the individual level: students banding together to help a classmate challenge their grades or get an exception for the grade policy when it is a close call. Obviously, these records are hard to find – students do not often want documented their own academic precarity. Students should know this has happened before. Student government has also passed resolutions in support of students, although this is necessarily more public.
Some of the recent archived materials on bar passage struggles at CUNY: