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All the Cards Are Stacked Against Us: Gate Keeping in the Bar
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All the Cards Are Stacked Against Us: Gate Keeping in the Bar

As a minority, female, “non- traditional” bar applicant I have never felt so disenfranchised as I do now at the hands of Florida Bar Examiners and the deafening inaction of the Florida Bar and Supreme Court.

I have failed this exam by just a few points more than once. I lost a lucrative job over not being able to pass, despite getting two promotions while at the firm and being one of their most valued young attorneys. I have already proved I can do the job well. Riddled with debt, I was forced to take a menial job to pay my bills and student loans. Every day I wake up feeling like an utter failure.

I have spent thousands of dollars in application and exam fees to the Bar over the past several years, jumping through all of their hoops to retake this test while working full time to support my children. I have lost count of how much money I have spent on prep courses and study materials.

I believe the Bar simply does not want people like me in the profession. All the cards are stacked against us. How is it acceptable to continue this hazing, gate-keeping tradition alive on the backs of the people already underrepresented in the industry? So much for fairness, equality, and diversity in law.

People like me do not have the luxury of a flexible schedule to accommodate all these date changes. We do not have the ability to take months off work to study as the exam date is pushed further back. We are working full time to support our families while studying for the bar exam (during a pandemic).

People like me are hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt and fighting a losing battle against an archaic exam that feels like its purpose is to marginalize people exactly like us.

If indeed that is the plan, it is working.

Per the ABA population survey, 85% of US attorneys are Caucasian and 65% are men. Less than 2% are Latin women, like me. According to an Article by AAA Network, 8% of Caucasians fail the Bar Exam on their first try versus almost 40% of African Americans.

To sit for this exam you first need: (1) a bachelor’s degree; (2) a high enough LSAT score; (3) admission into an ABA-accredited law school; (4) a Juris Doctor (traditionally a three-year program); (5) passing MPRE score, and (6) a clean review of your character and fitness. To practice, we need to be zealous advocates, effective communicators, act ethically, and be able to research law related to our clients’ issues. How exactly does the Bar Exam purport to successfully assess these skills? It tests memorization and an applicant’s ability to perform under pressure. That is it.

If it was truly a test of minimal competency, why are there people allowed to sit on The National Board of Bar Examiners and make $300,000.00 a year to gate-keep that have never sat for the exam? Why is Diploma Privilege good enough for them but not us?

As it is, the bar exam does nothing more than support the status quo and act as a harmful hazing ritual which keeps out otherwise qualified candidates from the field. Its discriminatory nature derails people’s careers, thereby destroying the future they have worked so hard at creating for their families. Continuing to require Bar Exam passage, rather than look to alternative methods of assessing a candidate’s abilities to actually practice law, does nothing more than perpetuate systematic bias in the already inequitable legal profession.

JURIST carries extended coverage of Bars Exams in the Pandemic.

 

This essay was written by an alumnus of the University of Florida, a Juris Doctor with 15 years of experience in the field of human rights violations, and is currently working for a non-profit agency serving abused, neglected, and human trafficked children. 

 

Suggested citation: All the Cards Are Stacked Against Us: Gate Keeping in the Bar, JURIST – Student Commentary, August 19, 2020, https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2020/08/florida-bar-exam-gatekeeping/.


This article was prepared for publication by Brianna Bell, a JURIST Staff Editor. Please direct any questions or comments to her at commentary@jurist.org.


Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.