Alternative ways to license new lawyers could lower costs, critics say

Alternative ways to license new lawyers could lower costs, critics say

The cost of preparing for and taking the bar exam places an undue financial burden on legal professionals wishing to enter the legal profession and enriches the testing industry, according to academics who are critical of the bar exam.

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.

The bar exam has come under pressure from reformers who say it is discriminatory and ineffective in assessing the knowledge and skills new lawyers need to be successful.

According to the National Conference of Bar Examiners, they are in the process of overhauling the test to emphasize legal skills over the memorization of doctrinal law, which is expected to debut in 2026. But critics say they want to see larger changes, such as diploma privilege programs that let law graduates practice without taking the bar.

“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.”


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