Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Harold Rex Interfectus Est

What? Harold the king is dead? Yes, he is. That is the only phrase I remember from 2 years of Latin.
I'm feeling unhinged today. My head isn't working right. Why? Type-B, I'm sure you have a suggestion, but such things are not blogging-from-work-appropriate. So yes, there's that, but there's also
THE BAR EXAM. Bernard Hermann music plays menacingly in the background. My second bar in as many years. Wait- no. I took the bar last year. So 2 bars in one year. And NO, I didn't fail it the first time. That was Illinois. This is California. Community property. 3-day bar. 60% pass rate.
"The National Conference of Bar Examiners' instructions state that the questions are designed to be answered according to legal theories and principles of general application." Bullshit. The Bar Exam tests your ability to stuff as many mnemonic devices as possible into your head and summon them as quickly as possible under pressure. That's it. Anyone could pass it if they studied hard enough. Law school has exactly nothing to do with the bar exam.
So why are we forced to take it? Because this is a profession according to the old definition of professions- an occupation the qualifications for which are determined by a uniform exam administered by a committee of people who have already passed said exam (and want to make your experience every bit as crappy as theirs was). Medicine, engineering, accounting, law.

I should be glad that I am a lawyer here and not in, say, France. In France they start testing you at 13 and you don't stop until they've essentially beaten all creativity out of you. The practice of law requires I think 3 exams; but there are state-administered exams for everything from pharmacology to farming to auto mechan(??ism?ics?). In France your results on said tests determine the course of your life more than any one exam could possibly do here. Yes, more so than the SAT, the MCAT, etc. If you do well on your Baccalaureat, for instance, and have enough money to enroll in the 2-year prep course and pass the requisite concours exam, you could end up at a Grande Ecole, where your life is made. If you attend a Grande Ecole de Commerce, you will be given a management position at 23 that 40-year-olds who have been at the company for 20 years but did not attend a Grande Ecole will never get. This glass ceiling is recognized and cherished in France. No one questions it really.

Here in America there are similar class-maintenance devices in place and in many ways we're just more subtle about it than the French. You might attend BFU, and still work your way to captain of industry- because here in the US, class divisions begin in the womb. You know what I'm saying. In France, primary and secondary education is not uniform but is much more centrally-managed and consistent than here. Money and connections help you into the Grandes Ecoles, but you won't go if you don't pass the Concours, and there is good public university education free to everyone who passed their Baccalaureat. You might seal your fate early on by attending said free university, in that you will never (or much more rarely) be dubbed industry captain- you will probably have a job though, and at any rate you'll have health insurance, government subsidies, etc. It's less exciting, maybe. And unfair- just in different ways.

In America, if you attend BFU you have already benefited from certain advantages that tend to inure to the middle class. Universities remain middle class institutions. Sure, you didn't go to Harvard, and your row will be a little harder to hoe, but you have your college degree, and much is open to you. America's "meritocracy" only applies to those lucky enough to be steered toward a tertiary education.

On that happy note, I am off to bar review. I will try not to use this blog as a forum for bar-related whining over the next two months, but know that it may happen. I'm just sayin'.