June 7, 2006

Bar: maintenance of denial

The rational approach would be to admit that the bar is merely an exclusionary tactic employed by a monopoly that I want to join. They keep their numbers down by ensuring that the amount of material tested is unknowable in 2 months.

If I could fully accept the former as true, then I could just study what I can, relax, and hope that luck is on my side. If she wasn't, I wouldn't take it personally and I'd sit for the exam again.

But, the entire profession of law *has* to believe that the difference between a pass and a fail on the bar actually means something useful. They *have* to believe that it is an effective filter to keep out those who shouldn't be practicing. Because, if they didn't believe that, well, then the bar exam would probably be an illegal restraint against competition or something along those lines, now wouldn't it?

We're not about to challenge their perspective. Us newly minted JDs were raised and worked our way through a system that taught us that if we just work hard enough, and if we do enough stuff, we will succeed. So, we trick ourselves into believing that if we slog through enough of this crap, if we are just determined and disciplined enough, it will work out fine for us this time too.

But deep down, we are beginning to realize that this test is a crap shoot.

Methinks that's the real reason why we're all so stressed. None of us are ready to switch our religious allegiance from fairness to luck. We want to keep chance firmly in the closet of denial. Each day, we must work harder and longer to push against that door, telling ourselves that if we are disciplined enough, the dreaded fate of not passing won't happen to us. We can keep it at bay, we tell ourselves.

Unfortunately, every additional hour spent studying shows us just how impossible it would be to truly learn all of this material in such a short time. Our resolve weakens and the denial-door cracks. Rays of the bitch-goddess luck stream through the room begging for worship.

Most of us, we don't want to start paying homage to luck. She is out of our control. She doesn't get along with our chosen deity of fairness. She would mean that we deserve less credit than we like to give ourselves. And she doesn't always believe in meritocracy. Even those of us that didn't do as well as we'd have liked in law school, those of us who admitted that there were elements of subjectivity to the grading process that meant the grades were not effective ranking tools, we want to believe that if we could do it again, we've learned some insight tht would make us better students -- we'd be better this time around. You would never hear a recent J.D. say about law school, "Oh, yeah, that 4.0 -- she was just lucky." Some of us might think that the difference between 4.0 and a 3.6 is luck. But, regardless, they are both indicative of a respectable performance, and it would be gauche to point out that neither one is any more impressive. So we keep our mouths shut.

But even those of us who accept that there is no *real* difference between an A- and B+, we refuse to consider that there may be no *real* difference between Esq. and J.D. Sure it may not be fair that any one of the top 15% of the class could have been the summa cum laude speaker, but who cares, really? Luck didn't *really* deprive any of those people something important, did she? It's not like luck kept a large portion of law students from graduating.

There's no way that the difference between passing and failing the bar is governed by luck. It just wouldn't be fair.

So we work like dogs. Even though it's completely irrational.

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