Lowering The Bar

January 5, 2006 

Clifton Eames has been reading too much of René Descartes.  When Eames flunked the Texas bar exam four times in a row, he reacted as though, “...there is a deceiver of supreme power and cunning who is deliberately and constantly deceiving me....”  Perhaps he is just a bit too obsessed by his belief in “Cogito ergo sum”. 

The State Bar of Texas has a rule which limits the number of times an individual can take the bar exam to five.  If you flunk all five times, that is the end of any ambitions to practice law in Texas.  Of course, you would still have the option for a lucrative career as the Mayor/coke-head of the District of Columbia. 

Eames is a 34-year-old graduate of the University of the District of Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law.  This renowned institution received its accreditation in 2005 and boasts that “55% of students are members of minority groups” and “61% of students are women”.  The school’s competitive nature is evidenced by the 25% of its enrollment with below national average GPA and LSAT scores. 

A UDC faculty member who asked not to be identified finds that “UDC's law school is ranked virtually last in the nation in both academics and by judges. It has clearly been recognized as a waste of taxpayers' funds by a variety of community leaders and groups".  This is evidenced by the fact that that a Washington Times Freedom of Information request discovered that “Less than a quarter of graduates from the University of the District of Columbia's law school pass the bar exam on the first try, well below the national average of 73 percent...Yet the David A. Clarke School of Law is spending nearly twice the national average on its students”.  

The school’s august stature was evidenced by then interim university president Timothy L. Jenkins’ 2001 statement that he “...agreed to accept an appointment to the Board of Trustees of the University...from Mayor Marion Barry...because...a great city ought to have a great University.”  What is the meaning of “great”? 

After a careful review of David A. Clarke School of Law’s website, it’s hard not to generalize that this school is an unheard-of remedial affirmative action bin.  Let’s put it this way: if the UDC law school was a medical school, you wouldn’t be picking any of its graduates for your bypass surgery.  Why not select an alumna from the Richard Simmons show to represent the US at the Winter Olympics while you’re at it. 

And this seems to be the chapter that Clifton Eames fails to grasp...Just hitting a ball around doesn’t entitle you to a major league contract.  There’s that nasty little pest called competency. 

Afraid that he might flunk the Texas bar exam for a fifth and final time, Eames has opted for the route most often traveled by people who practice form over substance...lower the bar by changing the rules.  It seems that Eames “is making it his mission to get the Texas rule changed”.  He believes that “It needs to be changed. It's not right.  It has never been right, and it will never be right. There's no justification for it. I'm not going to stop until it's changed.” 

So, let’s get this straight.  After decades of: watering down the admissions process; watering down the faculty tenure process and inflating grades (or eliminating them altogether)...now we are asked to water down the final safety net for the consumer to have a chance at competent legal representation.  This final safety net of legal competence, the bar exam, does not test your knowledge of the law per se, it tests your knowledge of how to practice law according to the statutes and procedures of your chosen State.  It’s an attempt at sparing the public and the courts from practitioners who don’t know how to practice.  

Just to prove that there is never a whiner without his nurturers, State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte (D-San Antonio) who authored a bill to eliminate the five-time rule thinks that “It just seems unfair to me to see Texas students being penalized”.  Of course Van de Putte, who herself is a Texas licensed pharmacist, made no mention of altering Texas’ licensure requirements for pharmacists.  I would really enjoy having a pharmacist who needed four score and seven attempts to qualify for licensure filling my prescriptions...”Oh you died...sorry about that”. 

And, you know where this is headed...the complete elimination of the bar exam requirement.  James Alfini the president of another august legal institution, the South Texas College of Law, believes that “There's nothing magic about passing the bar exam”.  I guess one of his degrees and a matchbook is all he thinks you need to swindle somebody. 

And speaking of matchbook degrees...Connecticut’s Hartford Hospital was recently fined $100,000 by the state’s Department of Public Health for violations which included a hyperbaric therapy technician killing a patient by accidentally administering a “sugar solution directly into the patient's bloodstream through the intravenous line” when, in fact, a doctor asked the “technician to give the patient a sugar solution through the feeding tube”. 

The hyperbaric technician “later said he did not know the difference between an intravenous line and a feeding tube”.  There is no competency examination in Connecticut to become a hyperbaric technician.  You are “certified” for the position by producing “degrees” for various levels of healthcare training.  You know...like the matchbook says, “Become a certified nurse’s aid in 6 weeks”...or 10 weeks or 20 weeks or as long as it takes you to get through the program.  Nobody will actually know that you can’t tell a stomach from a vein. 

But, let’s make believe that having to create a special Olympics for professional certification really doesn’t matter.  Eames engages this make-believe world when he states that “No one is going to ask you, ‘How many times did it take you to pass the bar exam’...The ultimate goal is, 'Can you help me?'”.  Well, can you? 

An astute participant at the FreeRepublic blog pointed out that “Frank Abagnale (subject of the movie "Catch Me If You Can") studied for two weeks and passed the bar, even though he never attended law school”.  But, Frank Abagnale is the exception rather than the rule.  The same can be said for Jeanne Louise Calment who lived to the age of 122 and smoked until the age of 116.  Living by examples in the third standard deviation is not a wise bet.  Neither hiring a dummy for a lawyer nor smoking for longevity are bets that wise people make. 

Eames is not entirely at fault here.  Equal blame is shared by institutions like the UDC law school which raise unrealistic expectations.  Sub par institutions are, at best, academic life support systems.  What does it say about the UDC law school when they emphasize that the school has an “Academic Success Program”...a program at the graduate level that “teaches students to be proactive with their learning and to master learning skills through proper goal-setting, actual performance, time management, self-motivation and self-efficacy”? 

Perhaps next, in addition to remedial reading clinics for grad students, we can have individual special education professionals assigned to hold the hand of each graduate...just to make sure they don’t screw-up once they are unleashed on the general population.  And all of this can be supported at the expense of the taxpayer when the courts are clogged by even more “professionals” who know more about leasing their BMW’s than the proper filing of a literate pleading. 

Eames’ ultimate solution to his dilemma is to threaten “a lawsuit challenging the limit”.  This is more of the “same-old, same-old”.  We live in an age: when a person who can’t get out of the sixth grade responds by threatening a lawsuit; when an idiot who can’t get into Harvard responds by threatening a lawsuit and when a glutton who can’t get into his pants actually files suit against McDonalds. 

Maybe Eames should either try: suing his law school for admitting an unqualified applicant; suing his law school for taking somebody’s money and delivering a sub-par education or spend more time studying for the Texas bar exam and less time bitching about it.  Also, if he gets fat, he should just say no to that next Big Mac.  But, please don’t ask the public to live in a world already overcrowded with incompetent professionals to accept even more incompetence.


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