Earlier this month, the California's State Bar announced passage rates on the California bar exam, administered last February. Only 27 percent passed the exam--the lowest pass rate in almost 70 years. Think about that-- almost 3 out of 4 law-school graduates failed the California bar exam, which means they cannot practice law in the Sunshine State.
Most of these unlicensed lawyers borrowed money to go to law school--a lot of money. Even public law schools are expensive: University of Texas School of Law, my alma mater, charges students $35,000 a year to attend. And the bottom-tier, for-profit law schools are almost as expensive as top-ranked public schools. According to Law School Transparency, the total cost of attending Florida Coastal School of Law--a bottom-of-the-barrel law school--is $256,939! The total cost to attend the University of Michigan's law school,one of the best schools in the country, is only slightly more expensive--$288,395.
What's going on? First of all, the demand for newly minted lawyers has declined drastically. Smart people have figured that out, and fewer bright young men and women are choosing law as a career.
Many law schools lowered admission standards to keep their classes full, which led to lower bar passage rates for law graduates. A few states (Nevada and Oregon) lowered the standards for passing their bar exams to get their passage rates up. But most states have tried to maintain high standards, which means thousands of indebted law-school graduates aren't passing the bar and can't work as lawyers.
Then--as law school enrollments went down--Congress enacted the Direct PLUS program, which removed the cap on the amount of federal loans students can take out to go to graduate school. In response, law school jacked up their prices and students began borrowing more and more money to pursue careers that became increasingly illusive.
A few colleges have done the honorable thing and stopped admitting students. Whittier College will close its law school after its current students graduate, and Valparaiso Law School announced last November that it will not admit new students.
Belatedly, in my view, the ABA began putting the squeeze on the most mediocre law schools in an effort to get them to raise their admission standards. But some of these schools have sued the ABA--Thomas M. Cooley and Florida Coastal, in particular.
I don't see a happy ending to this saga. With the exception of elite schools like Harvard, Stanford and a couple of dozen others, law schools across the United States have lowered admission standards, thereby watering down the quality of the legal profession. The ultimate result, in my opinion, will be the erosion of the nation's legal system as fewer and fewer of our nation's brightest and most honorable young people pursue legal careers as attorneys and judges.
We see it now. The corruption, deception, and manipulation that characterizes our national politics can be laid at the feet of our political class--and most of these creeps are lawyers.