More Information More Information Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Race and Social Justice
The year 2020 was challenging for the bar exam. The longstanding argument that the bar exam is not a fair measure of the minimum competence of someone to practice law was cast into harsh relief and the truth-that the bar exam tests the privilege of its examinees-became startlingly apparent. Not only did 2020 kick off with a devastating global pandemic, but we also saw the rage against systemic racial injustice reach a boiling point just as we were charged with staying in our homes to avoid contracting COVID-19. With a pandemic raging, overt White supremacy on the rise, and racial injustice taking its toll on Black and Brown bodies and minds, it may seem that the bar exam is of relatively little importance. Yet, for the approximately 46,000 people on average preparing for and taking the July bar exam each summer cycle, the summer of 2020 shone a bright light on the inequity inherent in a standardized exam serving as the measure of competence for the practice of law.
Part I of this paper provides an overview of the history of the bar exam and its role in acting as a significant obstacle to licensure for people from communities of color. Though this issue was discussed long before 2020, this paper also looks at the way in which the pandemic's impact on the bar exam highlighted the fact that the bar exam tests the privilege of its individual applicants at least as much as it tests their skills. Part II presents an approach to helping graduates prepare for and overcome the bar exam even when the odds are seemingly stacked against their success. It delves into the unique advantage that intensive coaching provides over more generalized guidance on bar success. The success and challenges of this method of assistance will be analyzed with an eye towards how other law schools looking to adopt a similar program might go about mitigating the challenges faced by their students in attempting to pass the bar exam. Finally, this paper explores how Raise the Bar served as an important support for bar takers in an unprecedented time of crisis. Until the problems posed by the bar exam can be resolved, it is incumbent upon law schools to assist their students in overcoming the bar exam barrier.
Benjamin Afton Cavanaugh, Testing Privilege: Coaching Bar Takers towards "Minimum Competency" during the 2020 Pandemic, 23 Scholar 357 (2021).