Regents Tack Bar Exam Test Prep Fee on Law School Cost

Bob Mercer reports that the Board of Regents has approved charging law students another $2,400 to pay for a bar exam prep course:

USD President Jim Abbott said the $2,400 would save at least $1,000 apiece for most law students. He said the list price for BARBRI’s preparation course is $3,495.

A report provided beforehand to the regents described the Dallas, Texas-based organization as “the leading market provider for bar preparation instruction.”

Abbott said making the fee mandatory would also make it eligible to be covered by student loans [Bob Mercer, “Regents Add $400 Fee per Semester to Prepare USD Law School Students,” Mitchell Daily Republic, 2017.05.11].

That’s funny: I thought USD already charged students for a bar exam prep course: it’s called law school. The Regents’ move feels like a high school saying it’s going to spend money on ACT or SAT prep courses from Kaplan. Instead of letting tests measure what students learn in school, the Regents are apparently admitting USD can’t teach its own law curriculum effectively and must teach to the test, thus giving an out-of-state corporation (BARBRI is based in Dallas, Texas) a chance to cash in on our law students.

Charleston School of Law in South Carolina includes BARBRI materials in its curriculum. Charleston students who opt in to the BARBRI post-graduation seven-week review course pay $457.50 per semester… so at least USD students are getting a better deal.

BARBRI has offered bar exam prep for fifty years. They’ve apparently incurred the wrath of competitors who have filed multiple anti-trust lawsuits, the latest of which was filed a year ago by LLM Bar Exam LLC against BARBRI and eleven law schools. LLM Bar Exam contends that BARBRI stole their foreign-student bar review materials, harassed and defamed their company, and colluded with law schools like Columbia, Harvard, Duke, and UC Berkeley to keep LLM Bar Exam out of the market. LLM Bar Exam wants $50 million, comparable to a $49 million settlement BARBRI and Kaplan agreed to in a previous suit. BARBRI and the defendant schools contend LLM Bar Exam has no facts to back its claim, lacks experience, has a bad cancellation and refund policy, and offers incomplete materials. The case is pending.

Blind law students filed suit against BARBRI last year for not making its online materials fully accessible to blind students. In 2013, another law student claims BARBRI declined to provide some materials in Braille, a claim a competing bar exam prep company has used in its PR. (Dang: could blind users sue us bloggers under the ADA for not providing Braille blog translations?)

USD law students, I’d suggest saving your $2,400 the old-fashioned way: pay attention in class, study hard, and get a good night’s sleep before the bar exam.

15 Responses to Regents Tack Bar Exam Test Prep Fee on Law School Cost

  1. Nearly everyone when I went to law school took a bar prep course, and I believe that was the case in other law schools as well. I don’t see it as a comment on the USD law school at all (I have other beefs with USD Law but generally had a good experience there). We all know that teaching important material vs teaching to the test are 2 different things. And I had to get a separate loan to pay for the course, with worse terms than my student loans. Could I have passed the bar without the course? Probably. But when you’ve invested so much in your education, you don’t want to run the risk. Paying a few extra thousand for a course that is designed to teach to the test was worth it on my book, if even to avoid the possible financial, personal, and career costs to retake the exam a second time and delay my admission to the bar.

  2. I think taking the decision away from the law students regarding which, if any, bar prep course to use is a little bit heavy-handed and probably unnecessary. It wouldn’t surprise me if at least part of this decision was based on the constant and annoying marketing that the several companies shove down students’ throats throughout law school, distracting from the important work at hand. There are several bar prep course options that are cheaper and still effective, so the “discount” suggested in the article is illusory. It seems like a good idea to have the option to pay for it with tuition through student loans, though. If only they gave the option for the course and price points somebody wants, that would be helpful to a lot of people.

    I disagree with Cory’s idea that students should just pay attention in school. Law school is 3 years and covers many very difficult and technical areas of the history and current practice of law. Even the best and brightest need a refresher to bring everything back to the front of the mind. After all, the bar exam can feel like, and in some ways is, a career-making or heart-breaking event. It’s too important to assume you’ll remember everything from the last three years.

  3. I wondered if this was the Board of Regents response to the current state of USD’s bar exam passage rates.

  4. It is, Mr. Sol! Study harder, law students!

  5. bearcreekbat

    Why not return to the days of the “diploma privilege” for USD law grads – problem solved. I doubt that forcing people who have managed to succeed in law school to take yet another test makes any real difference in their abilities or skills, especially when the bar exam is merely pass-fail.

  6. Bear, I’m strongly tempted by your position. But do we need an independent testing entity to verify that our universities aren’t just diploma mills?

    And while I’m thinking of it, can anyone take the bar exam? Is one required to go to law school first, or can a “home-schooled” law candidate sit for the bar and win licensure?

  7. Ryan, I agree that three years of law school is a lot to remember. My friends who attended attest to the difficulty and technicality of that education. But if law students need a refresher course just to remember enough to pass a bar exam right after law school, do we require lawyers to take such refresher courses over all of their law school material five, ten, twenty years after law school to keep their law degrees?

  8. bearcreekbat

    Cory, I suppose anyone could take the bar exam, but in SD a law degree from an accredited law school is also required for a license to practice law. As for protecting against a diploma mill, we are talking only about our state’s single law school – USD, which has to meet high standards for continuing accreditation.

    As for assuring that lawyers keep up to date, many states (not including SD so far) have mandatory continuing legal education requirements (CLE). SD has lots of CLE opportunities for our lawyers for which there is no additional cost over the annual bar dues.

  9. Belt and suspenders? Shouldn’t accreditation be enough assurance that a graduate of a law school is sufficiently prepared to practice law?

  10. I have mixed feelings about the importance of a bar exam. On one hand, you would think that if somebody can get through law school, they are competent to practice law. On the other hand, I saw some students who could get enough help throughout the course work to pass the classes, despite the fact that they would have no ability to function as an attorney or to provide sound legal advice without that same help. So there is at least the idea that the bar exam is a solo-effort situation that helps ensure that somebody can think and act independently when it comes to legal issues.

    As for any ongoing training, testing, or certification – it would probably be a good idea because like anything else, the further you are from the education, the more likely you are to forget or mis-apply important concepts. It seems like the same way we think of driving – you take a test once to show you cared enough to try hard at one point, but then we just assume you’re good enough to keep on keeping on. This is probably why there are some terrible drivers who have been driving for decades; there are also some terrible attorneys with 30 years of experience. I guess the idea is that the disciplinary board is there to field and respond to complaints regarding a lawyer’s conduct, so it is a self-regulated system. It isn’t perfect, but I think it works as well as any practical alternative I can think of.

    Most states require a bachelor’s degree and a law degree to take the bar. But there are ways that people work the loopholes in the system, like doing to an “easy” school for the degree, or taking the bar in an “easy” state and then using reciprocity or other similar concepts to transfer to the jurisdiction where they want to work. It’s like anything else – we can make rules that seem to have the industry’s and the public’s best interests in mind, but people are great at finding ways to skirt the system. Especially lawyers-in-training.

  11. bearcreekbat

    The idea that law students might forget what they learn in law school misunderstands what law schools typically teach. They don’t teach the rules or the “law,” rather they teach students how to find and apply ever changing laws. Legislatures and court precedent are always changing the law, hence a good lawyer has to recognize what they don’t know, know how to find the current state of the law, and then correctly apply what they have found to the facts that they are dealing with. They also learn the process of formulating an argument on all sides of an issue. They learn various techniques in persuasive legal writing and oral advocacy.

    If they have developed these skills well enough to pass law school, it seems unlikely that they would forget them after graduation, sans a bar exam.

  12. The last I knew, Wisconsin still granted the “diploma privilege”. It’s a pathetic state of affairs that other law schools do not think they are competent enough to train lawyers to pass the threshold profession exam. And why is there a bar exam – no one takes a doctor/dentist/professor practice exam AFTER graduation.

    The bottom line is that its all about economic privilege and monopoly. The Regents ruling is malarkey also because generally only about 60% to half the class even take the bar exam – those who do not have other things to do with their education and lives.

  13. bearcreekbat

    John, I wonder if law schools have any input or control over whether to allow a diploma privilege in lieu of a bar exam. I recall that SD did away with the privilege in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s, but I don’t know whose idea this was, what motivated the change nor what laws or rules had to be changed to implement a bar exam for new USD grads. Do you have any information about this history?

  14. John sounds like a jealous lawyer-hater. A lot more than 60% take the bar. And most of the ones who do want to help people, even if you think that means they have nothing better to do with their lives.

    What line of work are you in?

  15. Cory, I think engineers pay for similar state licensing exams. Don’t teachers have to be certified in each state they teach, too? Nurses ect? 50 different states of laws.

    Courts and state bar associations, obliged to self-police “over-eager-beaver” members’ unethical actions that can hurt people terribly, require higher standards of professional behavior by law. We saw what happened to President Clinton’s license(s). A president bald face lying to the American public (abut sex!).

    Prolly again its the Regents or their lawyer-spouses ect. in this ‘lil red state, which is owned by the national republican party, that are just trying to privatize another pot of money for another in-state republican’s benefit, like they did with MCEC, troy, and EB5, Tidemann. You scratch mine, I’ll scratch yours. In somebodys’ God we trust. An independent FBI, judiciary, or non-politicized Federal Reserve or FCC. Hah! We have let republicans politicize the court. what’s next? Its all for the 1%.

    Why let some out-of-state company (BARBRI or less reputable outfit) profit off law students when the Regents can edge them out by holding law degrees hostage. Sell more SD law licenses to grads studying for a state bar exam to get licensed in whatever other states, violates right to travel. Since one has had to pay Regents already, as a semester add-on to tuition, for bar prep, then the poor grad will have an unnecessary extra license from SD, whether intending to practice here or not, regardless of in-state tuition or not, with monthly bar dues, too!

    CLEs, annual legal education credits exist. Professional engineers take exams. Take on a good lawyer or engineer professionally sometime and prepare to get your clock cleaned if their meters are running. The better the performance, the bigger the bill.

    Cory will continue to want to be a lawyer until he needs one for something serious. None of us should wish this on anyone else. There is a reason for “shark” jokes. Good lawyers are just as dangerous. As Joop’s lawyer may have demonstrated.

    It is too bad “Lock-Box” Gore’s lawyers were not successful in 2000. We have been suffering that loss all of these years, despite Obama’s wonderful service. Bush’s “Cheney” presidency was an abomination.

    The rise of Speaker Boehner and now Majority Leader McConnell are a manifest threat to sell us all out to the 1%.

    Our home equity. Then Health care. Then Medicaid. Then Medicare. And then Social Security. Then the billionaire families will be protected from having to pay for the rest of us rabble. Militarized police forces. Gated communities. Above the law.

    The likes of Paul Ryan, Thune, Noem, Rounds, Daugaard, Jackley and now Krebs do and will sell us out every time.

    Oh, but we whites love South Dakota, our Black Hills, Spearfish Canyon, and our Missouri River! May pipelines from Canada to Koch Brothers oil refineries run under SD forevah and evah!!

    Standing Rock started it. A constitutional amendment taking money out of politics will finish it.

    Think lawyers aren’t a good investment, or are poorly educated, and then trained for decades? Watch what happens with Edgemont uranium hearings. Watch what happens to Trump’s treason. “I hope. I hope. I hope.” (As Good As It Gets)

    Midnight ramblings….