August 16, 2022

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The Legal System

Does the bar exam cost too much? These law profs think so

3 min read

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  • Preparing for and taking the bar can cost $2,000 to more than $10,000
  • Alternative ways to license new lawyers could lower costs, critics say

(Reuters) – The cost of preparing for and taking the bar exam places an unfair financial burden on law grads seeking to enter the legal profession while enriching the testing industry, academics critical of the licensing exam said Friday.

Law graduates can expect to pay anywhere from $2,000 to upwards of $10,000 in exam fees, character and fitness review costs, laptop fees and, most notably, commercial bar prep courses, said Washburn University law professor Marsha Griggs. Bar prep courses range from about $1,100 to more than $3,800 and private bar exam tutoring can run about $150 an hour, she said.

“The bar exam is a $30 billion industry in addition to being a gatekeeping tool for our profession,” Griggs said at a symposium on the exam and alternative paths to attorney licensure hosted by Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

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Reached for comment, Mike Sims, president of bar prep company BARBRI Inc, said its courses start at $1,999 and most students pay less than $2,600. The company also grants more than $6 million annually in scholarships for students pursuing public interest careers, he said.

A spokeswoman for the National Conference of Bar Examiners, which designs the national components of the test, said the organization aims to minimize costs but added that exam application and associated fees are set by individual jurisdictions. Those fees range from $250 to $1,000, she said.

Speakers at Friday’s symposium highlighted the long history of disparate racial outcomes on the bar exam. The test is under pressure from reformers who say it is discriminatory and ineffective in gauging the knowledge and skills new lawyers need to be successful.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners is in the process of overhauling the test to emphasize legal skills over the memorization of doctrinal law. The new test is expected to debut in 2026.

But bar exam critics say they want to see larger changes, such as so-called diploma privilege programs that let law graduates practice without taking the bar, or supervised practice programs in which new lawyers are licensed after working with experienced lawyers.

One benefit of bar exam alternatives is a lower cost to new lawyers, advocates say.

“Is it the case that we can’t even provide [bar exam prep] services to candidates at a price lower than $1,100?,” Griggs said. “That says a lot about the price tag we’re putting on entry into the legal profession.”

Read more:

New bar exam is on track for 2026 debut, licensing officials say

A longer, cheaper bar exam prep program looks to upend the industry

Behind a legal headhunting firm’s deal with bar exam prep giant BARBRI

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Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Karen Sloan

Thomson Reuters

Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at [email protected]

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