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In-Box: Reader responds concerning proposed changes to state's bar exam

July 31, 2013
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Letters to the Editor

To the editor:

As a new lawyer, I appreciate the timely news and critical legal updates provided by the Indiana Lawyer. I would like to take this opportunity to write in response to a June 19, 2013, IL article on proposed changes to the Indiana Bar Examination.

As a recent law school graduate and even more recent bar exam participant (July 2012), I would like to express my concern for the proposed changes to the Indiana Bar Exam. While I can appreciate the challenges associated with changing anything, particularly a bar exam, the proposed changes seem to entirely miss the boat on the purpose of any bar examination.

The article suggests that a bar exam is the opportunity for the examiners to make a determination as to which candidates appear at least minimally competent to practice law in Indiana. That is about the only premise I generally agree with, and yet I personally know people who did not pass the bar exam that are more competent in certain areas of the law than I could hope to be.

The article suggests that bar exam candidates “learn” Indiana law by studying for the bar exam. That’s simply not accurate. I took the exam, and I would not begin to suggest that I learned Indiana law by that preparation. In fact, if I recall correctly, there were only two questions on the Indiana Bar Exam in July 2012 that even remotely hinted at Indiana law – one regarding family law and one regarding simple, basic trial rules/procedure. The essay I remember most clearly was the one on UCC-3, a course I never took in law school and a subject that I memorized for the Indiana Bar Exam using a mnemonic device, which I don’t remember. Yet I’m certain I scored every point possible on that question. My “flawless” answer to that question should not have determined that I was “minimally competent to practice in Indiana,” but it likely did contribute to my passing that exam. Personally, I’d prefer that the state went to a diploma privilege license like Wisconsin with the additional requirement that new law school graduates then apprentice for several years with experienced lawyers. That’s another discussion.

My primary concern with the proposed changes to the bar exam is that there is no discussion of moving to the Uniform Bar Examination like at least 13 other states have already done. Just use the MBE, the two ridiculous MPT “products” if you must, and six national essays. If 13 other states can figure out who is minimally competent to practice law from the UBE, so can the Indiana Board of Law Examiners. The benefit for the hundreds of Indiana law school graduates – portability of the UBE score to other jurisdictions – far outweighs any presumed competence the Indiana bar might think it is gaining by using Indiana specific essays. And, based on my experience, Indiana only currently uses one or two somewhat specific essays per exam administration at this point.

The proposed changes such as adding tax law and bankruptcy law to the exam is a great idea in theory, but it is flawed in its premise that anyone is going to come out of that exam preparation ready to practice, for example, bankruptcy law with minimum competency. I had an excellent course in bankruptcy law in law school and did well in it. I also worked in a law office in Crown Point for two years while in law school with an experienced bankruptcy attorney. The only thing I know for certain is that I am in no way competent to practice bankruptcy law, even though I am technically licensed to do so. If I were to decide to practice bankruptcy law, or any other field for that matter, I would work with an expert lawyer who has been doing it for 20-plus years and knows what he or she is talking about. To do it any other way seems to me to be flirting with malpractice.

As the nation’s law schools regroup and restructure to offer more practical, skills-based education to their students, boards of law examiners and state bars should be restructuring their requirements to insist on far more than minimal competency in the candidates that enter the profession. Is it ethical to allow a “minimally competent” lawyer to practice law on an unsuspecting client? Now that would be a useful question on the MPRE!

So, do future attorneys a huge favor and don’t be the last jurisdiction to switch to the UBE. Do something truly important for lawyer competency in Indiana – put a “residency” requirement in place for all new Indiana attorneys, regardless of what area of the law they want to practice, rather than Indiana’s current position of allowing new lawyers to practice on their clients. Thank heavens the medical profession doesn’t allow a minimally competent doctor to do open heart surgery. It should be no different for attorneys.•

Richard Mitchell, Ph.D., J.D.

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  1. All the lawyers involved in this don't add up to a hill of beans; mostly yes-men punching their tickets for future advancement. REMF types. Window dressing. Who in this mess was a real hero? the whistleblower that let the public know about the torture, whom the US sent to Jail. John Kyriakou. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/26/us/ex-officer-for-cia-is-sentenced-in-leak-case.html?_r=0 Now, considering that Torture is Illegal, considering that during Vietnam a soldier was court-martialed and imprisoned for waterboarding, why has the whistleblower gone to jail but none of the torturers have been held to account? It's amazing that Uncle Sam's sunk lower than Vietnam. But that's where we're at. An even more unjust and pointless war conducted in an even more bogus manner. this from npr: "On Jan. 21, 1968, The Washington Post ran a front-page photo of a U.S. soldier supervising the waterboarding of a captured North Vietnamese soldier. The caption said the technique induced "a flooding sense of suffocation and drowning, meant to make him talk." The picture led to an Army investigation and, two months later, the court martial of the soldier." Today, the US itself has become lawless.

  2. "Brain Damage" alright.... The lunatic is on the grass/ The lunatic is on the grass/ Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs/ Got to keep the loonies on the path.... The lunatic is in the hall/ The lunatics are in my hall/ The paper holds their folded faces to the floor/ And every day the paper boy brings more/ And if the dam breaks open many years too soon/ And if there is no room upon the hill/ And if your head explodes with dark forbodings too/ I'll see you on the dark side of the moon!!!

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  5. My mother got temporary guardianship of my children in 2012. my husband and I got divorced 2015 the judge ordered me to have full custody of all my children. Does this mean the temporary guardianship is over? I'm confused because my divorce papers say I have custody and he gets visits and i get to claim the kids every year on my taxes. So just wondered since I have in black and white that I have custody if I can go get my kids from my moms and not go to jail?

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