ACA.supremecourt.070419

The Louisiana Supreme Court announced that some recent law school graduates — many of whom are my former students — will not be required to take the Louisiana Bar Exam to be permitted to practice law in Louisiana. Reactions to this announcement have been, predictably, mixed.

Some people ask: How can we be sure that these recent graduates are competent to practice law? That question misses the point entirely. The assumption that the bar exam provides reliable evidence of fitness to practice law is fundamentally flawed for reasons too numerous to elaborate upon here.

I do note, however, that the bar exam is a minimum competency exam. Professors at the Louisiana law schools do not teach minimum competency. Our students do not aspire to minimum competency. We hold our students to much higher standards — and our students routinely exceed those standards.

These recent law school graduates are no different. As a member of the Louisiana bar, I welcome them to the profession. We are lucky to have them.

The bigger point in this latest decision from the Louisiana Supreme Court is how court utterly failed these recent graduates. In doing so, the court failed us all. Law professors demand that students be prepared, think critically and use reason and logic to solve problems. These skills are required daily of lawyers and judges. In its haphazard approach to this year’s bar exam, however, the Louisiana Supreme Court ignored those important law school lessons.

It was obvious by April (if not earlier) than an in-person bar examination would not be tenable in July. So how did the court respond? It remained silent until May 8, when it announced a plan that defied common sense and centuries of germ theory: The exam would be shortened to one day, administered in more locations and offered on an additional date. On June 3 — after the pandemic had killed more than 100,000 people in this country — the court made the long-overdue announcement that examinees could also take the exam online.

On July 15 — shortly before the July exam was scheduled — the Louisiana Supreme Court made a shocking announcement: The exam was canceled. If there was an online option, why should the exam be canceled?

The court offered no meaningful explanation. Rather, the court threw blame elsewhere claiming the decision was made after “consultation, evaluation and advice” from the “deans of the Louisiana law schools.” Those deans, however, appeared just as shocked as the rest of us. Lawyers owe a duty of candor to the court — the court, apparently, does not hold itself to the same standard.

How would you grade the court’s performance on the bar exam this year?

ELIZABETH CARTER

law professor

New Orleans