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Proposed changes to the Indiana Bar Exam are sparking debate

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Between law school graduation and admittance to the practice of law stands the bar exam. Two long days of intense testing, coming after months of nonstop preparation, are a key piece in ultimately determining who is competent to be a lawyer.

Not surprising, changes to the exam can be viewed as significant if not monumental. The last time Indiana altered its bar exam was more than 10 years ago when the test switched from all essay to a combination of essay and multiple choice questions.

laramore Laramore

Once again, the essay portion is the focus of a new set of changes proposed by the Indiana Board of Law Examiners.

“Our job is to ensure lawyers admitted to practice in Indiana meet a standard of minimum competence,” said board president Jon Laramore, explaining the reason behind the proposed changes. “After writing and grading the essay questions of the bar exam over many years, the board concluded we should re-examine what subjects should be tested to best measure minimum competence.”

The Indianapolis Bar Association, the only nonprofit to offer a bar exam review course, applauded the board for taking an open-minded review of the test. However, in a letter detailing its response to the proposed changes, the association raised concerns about the exam potentially losing its focus on Indiana law.

The IBA stated the value of the bar exam is that it provides the last – and for many students the first – opportunity to become competent in Indiana law. The 2001 partial shift in focus from exclusive Indiana law topics to some national law questions in the multiple choice portion of the test has diminished those opportunities, leaving Indiana more at risk for having new admittees who do not know Indiana law. By focusing more on the “national” nature of certain areas of the law, new Indiana attorneys will not have knowledge of the unique Indiana laws governing their clients, the IBA wrote.

Along with the IBA, the Indiana State Bar Association and the Marion County Bar Association offered their views of the proposed changes. These organizations are among the individuals and groups who provided feedback.

Like the IBA, the state bar association added its support to making periodic changes to the bar exam. However, it advocated that any changes be made after considering not only objective data but also emerging trends for solo and small firm lawyers.

The board has made no final decision regarding the changes, but Laramore is pleased with the feedback the board received.

“I think our proposal generated a lot of discussion,” he said. “We received a nice cross section of comments.”

Taxing concerns

The Indiana Bar Exam requires applicants to write eight essays on the first day of testing: two for the Multistate Performance Test and six for the Indiana Essay Examination. The second day is devoted to the multiple choice questions of the Multistate Bar Examination.

The board suggests altering the list of subjects from which potential questions could be drawn in the IEE section. Under the proposal, commercial law, personal property and taxation would be deleted from the list of potential topics and replaced with debtor/creditor law and employment law.

In general, the board contends the topics targeted for removal are specialized or narrow areas that attorneys either rarely encounter in their practice or consult a specialist when they do.

The two replacement subjects cover areas of law that are commonly used by practitioners, the board explains, and are topics new attorneys will most likely encounter as they begin their careers.

Both the Indianapolis Bar Association and the Indiana State Bar Association argued against deleting the taxation topic. The organizations pointed out that most lawyers will face a tax issue in whatever area of law they practice. Moreover, since many law schools are no longer requiring tax classes, aspiring Indiana attorneys do not have a foundation in this subject and may not be able to spot the tax aspect in a case.

“Keeping tax as a potential subject for the essay portion of the Indiana bar examination is necessary to encourage all law students to take at least one tax course during law school and to develop the necessary basic competency to identify tax issues and analyze legal problems from tax perspectives as well as in practical terms,” the ISBA wrote in its letter to the Board of Law Examiners.

barexam-facts.gifThe points made by the IBA and the ISBA about tax questions underscore the role the bar exam plays in the legal community. The test is not a mere formality, but rather it is an important educational tool.

Law school focuses on teaching students to think like lawyers, said TaKeena Thompson, president of the Marion County Bar Association. Studying for the bar exam shifts the concentration to the nuts and bolts of practice, learning the rules and how to apply them.

“I think overall the bar exam prepared me for practice,” Thompson said. “I think it is definitely valuable. You’re not going to remember everything, but it gives you a good foundation.”

The MCBA surveyed its members about the proposed changes to the

exam. Thompson maintains practicing attorneys should be interested in the bar exam because it is a gateway for the next generation of lawyers. As the current crop of new attorneys ascends in their careers, established attorneys need to make sure those following them have a basic understanding of the law.

Although a small number of MCBA members responded to the survey, the majority approved of the changes. They echoed the board in pointing out that tax law issues do not arise often while debtor/creditor and employment law are areas new associates most commonly practice.

National law

In addition to swapping topics in the Indiana Essay Examination, the board has suggested mixing six topics into the IEE from the Multistate Bar Exam. The proposed new subjects from which essay questions could be produced are federal constitutional law, contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property, and torts.

These topics will generate more essays that address multiple subjects, the board stated. For example, a pleading and practice question could also include torts and evidence. Expanding the possibilities to include multistate topics will also enable the board to test for minimum competence more effectively.

Stephanie Williams, a clerk for U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Dinsmore, would like to see multistate subjects in the Indiana portion of the bar exam. A member of the Marion County Bar Association, Williams passed the bar exam in February 2013 after successfully taking the Illinois exam in February 2012.

Having the broader topics could boost the passage rate, Williams said, because test-takers could get points for answering the question in general terms, and then get additional points for adding the distinctions present in Indiana law.

From 2002 to 2012, Indiana had an average bar exam passage rate of 72 percent, according to data from the Indiana Board of Law Examiners.

The Indianapolis Bar Association, however, cautioned against the inclusion of multistate topics because it could impede new lawyers from mastering Indiana law. Multistate topics test Hoosier applicants on areas they likely will not use and lack the unique aspects of the state’s property, criminal, contract and tort laws.

“If today Indiana were deciding for the first time what its Bar Examination should cover and what its purpose is, reasonable minds could conclude that the prior Indiana model of a fully Indiana-administered Indiana-focused Exam is in the State’s, the Bar’s and the judiciary’s best interests,” the IBA wrote in its letter.

Whether the board presents the Indiana Supreme Court with any recommendations for changes is uncertain, Laramore said. Currently, the members are turning their attention to the July bar exam and the subsequent grading. Afterward, they will return to their proposed changes.

Any changes that are approved would not take effect until July 2016.•

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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

  2. "Meanwhile small- and mid-size firms are getting squeezed and likely will not survive unless they become a boutique firm." I've been a business attorney in small, and now mid-size firm for over 30 years, and for over 30 years legal consultants have been preaching this exact same mantra of impending doom for small and mid-sized firms -- verbatim. This claim apparently helps them gin up merger opportunities from smaller firms who become convinced that they need to become larger overnight. The claim that large corporations are interested in cost-saving and efficiency has likewise been preached for decades, and is likewise bunk. If large corporations had any real interest in saving money they wouldn't use large law firms whose rates are substantially higher than those of high-quality mid-sized firms.

  3. The family is the foundation of all human government. That is the Grand Design. Modern governments throw off this Design and make bureaucratic war against the family, as does Hollywood and cultural elitists such as third wave feminists. Since WWII we have been on a ship of fools that way, with both the elite and government and their social engineering hacks relentlessly attacking the very foundation of social order. And their success? See it in the streets of Fergusson, on the food stamp doles (mostly broken families)and in the above article. Reject the Grand Design for true social function, enter the Glorious State to manage social dysfunction. Our Brave New World will be a prison camp, and we will welcome it as the only way to manage given the anarchy without it.

  4. When I hear 'Juvenile Lawyer' I think of an attorney helping a high school aged kid through the court system for a poor decision; like smashing mailboxes. Thank you for opening up my eyes to the bigger picture of the need for juvenile attorneys. It made me sad, but also fascinated, when it was explained, in the sixth paragraph, that parents making poor decisions (such as drug abuse) can cause situations where children need legal representation and aid from a lawyer.

  5. Some in the Hoosier legal elite consider this prayer recommended by the AG seditious, not to mention the Saint who pledged loyalty to God over King and went to the axe for so doing: "Thomas More, counselor of law and statesman of integrity, merry martyr and most human of saints: Pray that, for the glory of God and in the pursuit of His justice, I may be trustworthy with confidences, keen in study, accurate in analysis, correct in conclusion, able in argument, loyal to clients, honest with all, courteous to adversaries, ever attentive to conscience. Sit with me at my desk and listen with me to my clients' tales. Read with me in my library and stand always beside me so that today I shall not, to win a point, lose my soul. Pray that my family may find in me what yours found in you: friendship and courage, cheerfulness and charity, diligence in duties, counsel in adversity, patience in pain—their good servant, and God's first. Amen."

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