Constitutional Scholar Fails California Bar Exam

I'm sure Kathleen Sullivan is not amused that her failure to pass the California Bar Exam after this illustrious career is making national news:

A native of New York City, Ms. Sullivan has an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and a law degree from Harvard University. She taught at both Stanford and Harvard before becoming dean of Stanford's law school in 1999. The author of a leading constitutional-law casebook, Ms. Sullivan has argued several cases before the Supreme Court. Earlier this spring, the nation's highest court ruled in favor of one of her clients, a California winegrowers' group, striking down state laws that restricted direct sales from vineyards to consumers.

Ms. Sullivan may be the most qualified person yet to fail the infamous California bar. I agree with those who say the problem is in the exam, not with the candidates.

California (and Florida's) lack of reciprocity for lawyers from other states is anachronistic. We should be moving towards a national bar, as the federal courts are doing. A lawyer with no disciplinary sanctions, who is current on continuing legal education requirements and in good standing in a bar of any state should be allowed to practice nation-wide. The only reason I can see for maintaining the requirement is to throw more business to home state lawyers.

Also, it is a waste of time for someone who only practices in limited areas, such as criminal law or entertainment law to have to be well versed in the law against perpetuities or estate law in order to become licensed in another state.

I barely remember my bar exam, although I think it was two days. I remember going outside the room for cigarette breaks where I met a guy who I then started dating, and driving away when it was over in my Mustang convertible with the top down and the Eagles blasting their new hit, "Already Gone." It was the most liberating day of my life -- I was done being a student forever.

I would never take another bar exam.

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    Re: Constitutional Scholar Fails California Bar Ex (none / 0) (#1)
    by nolo on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:40 PM EST
    No more bar exams for me either. As for the lack of reciprocity in California and Florida, chalk it up to good old cartel behavior on the part of the local state bars. Local attorneys don't want to have to compete with snowbirds -- especially in Florida.

    If she's dean of Stanford Law, why would she want to be admitted to the California Bar anyway? Lawyers in good standing can get admitted on a temporary basis to handle specific cases. I thought the bar was a drag and thought I would never want to take another bar exam either. However, now that I am thinking of moving to a new jurisdiction (I mean out of here, I find myself studying contracts and wills, etc.

    Re: Constitutional Scholar Fails California Bar Ex (none / 0) (#3)
    by jimcee on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:40 PM EST
    It is not just the Bar exams that are loaded to keep others out. When I used to be a construction electrician I needed to take a Journeyman's exam in order to run a job in a particualr area. When I took the exam it was more like a Master's exam. I and everyone else that took it failed. I took it the next year when a group of Union electricians needed thier licenses and it was more like an apprentice's exam. Nonsensical regulation in order to protect someone's goombahs seems to be the same whether it's electrical work or legal work. A Federal Bar exam seems about right to me.

    Re: Constitutional Scholar Fails California Bar Ex (none / 0) (#4)
    by DonS on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:40 PM EST
    I failed the (at that time) infamous N.Y. bar in 1968. I didn't really want to pactice at the time, and had no intention of living in New York, so I went back and took a bar review course and passed the DC bar. My own post bar exam memories are interesting; I got the hong kong flu almost immediately after the NY exam, which was also two days, and was down for a week. I agree its a mostly stupid system that forces folks to cram like mad to regurgitate information that they almost immediately forget, and never would have used.

    Re: Constitutional Scholar Fails California Bar Ex (none / 0) (#5)
    by jen on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:40 PM EST
    its amazing how easy some tests can become when there is a shortage of needed workers, ain't it?

    Re: Constitutional Scholar Fails California Bar Ex (none / 0) (#6)
    by roger on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:40 PM EST
    The criminal laws are very different in Florida. I have seen out of state lawyers, who admitted here, do some f-ed up things. Standardize the laws, then the exams.

    Re: Constitutional Scholar Fails California Bar Ex (none / 0) (#7)
    by cpinva on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:40 PM EST
    the same is true of cpa's. FL and CA are the only two states not having reciprocity. unlike criminal law, accounting is the same, regardless of what state you're practicing in. it's done solely to cut down on people retiring, moving to one of the two, and deciding to open a practice. also, both states require a 5th year of college to sit for the exam. it doesn't make you a better accountant, just keeps you out of circulation for another year. i'll never sit for it again, in this or any other lifetime.

    Florida and Califonia are not the only states without reciprocity - Arizona doesn't have it either. The sunshine states are definately worried - probably not without justification - that they'll get flooded if they allow admission on motion. After practicing in AZ for 7 years, I had to take the Pennsylvania exam so I can move the family back east (I passed it no problem - it seemed much easier than when I took it after law school possibly due to not having to worry about losing a job if I tanked it). Whatever one might say about the bar exam business, it's pretty obvious why Sullivan didn't pass, she just didn't study. No matter how talented a law student one is, there's a crapload of substantive law to memorize. Being a nationally prominent constitutional scholar won't help you get a decent score on a trusts & estates question or a torts question. You have to spend some time memorizing the law and doing practice questions for each substantive area if you want to be reasonably sure of passing.

    I guess she now needs to study harded (really hard) and try again. Otherwise this story may be some day used against her regardless of the actual difficulty of the California exam. She is a possible Supreme Court pick and we can all envisage radicals running ads one day questioning her qualifications based on this failure. Life is brutal...

    Isn't part of the problem in California the fact that there are so many unaccredited law schools out there? I always heard that part of the reason for California's bar being so difficult is because of all the students from unaccredited law schools trying to pass the bar and practice there.