A UCLA School of Law researcher recently found that people who fail the bar-exam fare more poorly than even college graduates in the first five years after graduation but spring back in the later half of their careers. By "spring back" the researcher refers to these numbers:
Broken down by age group, the median salary of law grads who never passed the bar was $32,000 before they reached the age of 30 (compared to $48,000 for lawyers and $35,600 for college grads), $48,000 from the ages of 30 to 39 (compared to $64,000 for lawyers and $42,000 for college grads), $54,000 between the ages of 40 and 49 (compared to $83,600 for lawyers and $46,250 for college grads), and $62,849 between the ages of 50 and 59 (compared to $86,400 for lawyers and $48,416 for college grads).
The article goes on to conclude that:
"Despite the resilience of the law grads who never passed the bar . . . their law school experience wasn’t worth the cost."
Wait, what? But it gets better. Law schools should take heed, because:
“Legal education may be a disservice for the significant group of students that never pass a bar exam—a group whose composition can be predicted fairly accurately before they’ve even begun law school,” she says. “At the very least, law schools owe it to their prospective students to provide candid information about the risks of attending law school.”
The data is interesting, but the article frames it as what I've started calling the Professors' Fallacy; it makes a generalized observation about a whole, then it proceeds to the conclusion that concrete advice should be given in particular cases. In this case, it suggests that "because people who share some similar traits to you fail the bar exam, you weren't cut out for law school."
My objections to this are legion.
First, there is a catalogue of benefits -- the very same intangible benefits professors are so often proud to laud -- that law school confers. I mean, it's a damn fine education! Second, consider the following list of people (hat tip to ATL): each of whom failed the bar exam at least once:
- Jerry Brown: Attorney General of California (and former California governor). Failed the California bar once before passing.
- Hillary Clinton: Brilliant, delicious (Ed. note: yes, he did just say that), and everyone should vote for her. Failed the D.C. bar exam in the 1970s, but passed the Arkansas bar — where she went on to have a successful legal career, as a partner in the Rose Law Firm.
- John F. Kennedy, Jr.: Highly attractive son of President John F. Kennedy. Failed the New York bar twice, before passing on the third try. Served as an assistant district attorney in New York from 1989 to 1993
- Emily Pataki: Highly attractive daughter of former New York Governor George Pataki. Failed the New York bar the first time, but passed the second time.
- Kathleen Sullivan: Former dean of Stanford law school, leading constitutional law scholar, and possible Supreme Court nominee (or Solicitor General pick) in a Democratic administration. Failed the California bar exam when she took it in July 2005.
- Pete Wilson: Former California governor. Failed the California bar exam three times, before passing on his fourth try.
Other notables include Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, Edith S. Sampson (the first African American delegate to the United Nations and first black woman elected judge in the United States), Marion G. "Pat'' Robertson (host of "The 700 Club," and president and chief executive officer of the mega-powerful Christian Broadcasting Network), and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
What if those people had been told prior to law school that they weren't cut out out for it, that their career forecast looked dismal, and that they were better off stopping with a bachelor's degree? Sure, on one hand the researcher's advice could have helped stifle Pat Robertson. But on the other hand, it would also have held back JFK, which would likely have created a nuclear holocaust, instead.