August 10, 2020

If Lawyers From Certain Schools Don’t Need to Take the Bar, Should Accounting Follow That Lead?

Today, in "aren't you glad you majored in accounting instead of going to law school" news, we have this proposal being discussed on Above the Law. Basically, eliminating the bar exam requirement would somehow produce better quality lawyers who could hurry up and start practicing sooner, which means they can pay back their student loans earlier, or something:

The Des Moines Register reports that the Iowa State bar is thinking of allowing graduates of the two in-state law schools to begin practice without passing the Iowa bar. Students would still have to pass the MPRE and go through some kind of character and fitness review. But actually knowing the law would be assumed for graduates of the University of Iowa College of Law and for Drake University Law graduates:

Backers of the proposal from an Iowa State Bar Association committee say the change could lessen the massive debt that University of Iowa and Drake University law school graduates face. A 4½-half-month gap exists between graduation and when exam-takers learn their test results. Many graduates take out loans to cover that period, which can cost about $29,000, according to the proposal.

On average, a graduate from the U of I’s law school has about $95,574 in debt, according to 2012-13 American Bar Association information. The average debt for Drake law school graduates is about $106,368…

“For most students, it really is just wasted time because they’re not able to practice, they aren’t able to get out and start earning money to pay off those student debts,” said Allan Vestal, Drake law school dean. “In a lot of cases, they’re still borrowing money to be able to live.”

Okay, slow your roll there, law deans in Iowa. I like lowering student debt too, but let’s not act like people who want to live and work in Iowa are graduating with six figures of debt because they have to kill a few months taking the bar and waiting for the results.

So wait a second… if the bar, like the CPA exam, exists as a profiency test and barrier to entry to keep the job pool populated with qualified kids and not just any old jackwagon off the street, how does eliminating the requirement help the already saturated field of law? Unless Iowa is somehow special and has more lawyer jobs than it does lawyers to go around. And shouldn't it be assumed — especially with a six figure price tag — that duh, obviously law school teaches kids the law? But hey, that'll look really good in the pamphlets "HEY YOU SHOULD STUDY WITH US, WE'LL GET YOU OUT OF THE BAR!"

Elie floats a theory on this:

Sure, it’s bad for students who can’t even legitimately start looking for employment until they pass a bar exam. But let’s also remember that this is a natural consequence of obtaining a crappy degree that can’t get you “employed upon graduation.” That’s not just me talking. Bob Morse, U.S. News rankings guru, said at AALS that the reason U.S. News still really cares about the “employed upon graduation” statistic is that it is a great indication about the strength and prestige of the law school. If people will hire your graduates before they even pass the bar, they’re saying that they really trust and value your educational preparation.

Of course, in the new normal, the problem is that there are too many kids for too few available jobs. People are waiting until after the bar results come out because there are too many graduates for too few entry level jobs. That problem isn’t going to change if Iowa students graduate without having to take the bar. And I can certainly imagine some law school defenders telling Iowa students to just “hang out a shingle,” as if they are remotely prepared to do that, with or without bar passage.

Can you imagine if Big 4 accounting firms only hired already-passed CPA candidates?

As Elie points out, pretending this idea has anything to do with student loan debt is ridiculous. $106k for an in-state school? No wonder these people didn't become accountants.

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