[Guest post by DRJ]
Most aspiring lawyers take the bar exam the summer after they graduate from law school. It’s stressful to wait and wonder if all the years of work you’ve put into college, law school and the bar exam process will pay off with a license to practice law. In addition, many are working in law firms or other employment so failing the bar would not only be embarrassing but might cost their jobs.
I’m reasonably certain there was no procedure to appeal a failing grade when I took the Texas bar exam almost 30 years ago. The test results were reported as “pass/fail” with no number grade and copies of the questions and answers were not available. Aspiring lawyers who took the bar exam back then had to accept whatever the exam results showed.
It seems things have changed since then:
“South Carolina’s top court changed the grades for 20 people — including the children of a prominent state lawmaker and a longtime circuit judge — who initially flunked the test required to practice law in South Carolina. The S.C. Supreme Court in last week’s order said the wills, trusts and estates section of the July exam would “not be considered” in determining a test-taker’s overall score, though the justices gave no reason for their decision.
Affected students included the daughters of state Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Richland, chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee; and Circuit Judge Paul Burch of Pageland. Both Burch and Harrison acknowledge contacting officials about the test results, but say they did not lobby for their children and did nothing improper.
The court said on its Web site Friday that it decided to throw out the results of the wills, trusts and estates section after it learned of a “scoring error.” The nature of the error remained unclear, as did the identity of the person who brought the matter to the court’s attention.”
The rules of the SC Board of Law Examiners prohibit contacts regarding an applicant or his/her scores:
“In both cases, Harrison said, he asked if the wills, trusts and estates section of the exam had an unusually high failure rate. An unusually high failure rate may be a sign of a faulty question, or faulty grading, he said.
He said that because he was not lobbying for a grade change for an individual, but only bringing a questionable situation that involved a group of students to the attention of authorities, he did nothing that violated the Supreme Court rule that prohibits contact.
The rule says that an applicant “shall not, either directly or through an agent, contact any member or associate member of the Board of Law Examiners or any member of the Supreme Court regarding the questions on any section of the bar examination, grading procedures or an applicant’s answers.”
Apparently several people who failed the test used Facebook to compare notes about the exam sections. One student left a comment when their efforts to have the tests re-graded were successful:
“Harrison said comments his daughter posted on the Internet social-networking site Facebook regarding the “hard work” she and her friends had done to get their grades changed had been misinterpreted.
“We worked really hard last week to make this happen and I’m just relieved that it’s all over and I can move on,” Catherine Harrison had posted recently.
Harrison said his daughter was referring not to any improper lobbying efforts, but to vigorous telephone and e-mail efforts to contact other students to discover if an unusual number of students had failed the section.”
Mistakes happen and I’m glad this one was corrected. However, I’m sure this has happened in the past and/or in other places and it wasn’t fixed. If this were my child, I would have told him to do a better job on the test next time so he wasn’t so close to a failing score.
Update 11/18/2007 @ 9:00 PM: Here’s a story involving the Puerto Rico Medical Examiners Board:
“In August, a federal grand jury indicted 88 men and women after an investigation into members of Puerto Rico’s Medical Examiners Board who allegedly altered failing test scores to certify unqualified doctors. Almost three months later, federal agents carried out another round of raids across the U.S. territory, arresting dozens more as part of the scandal.
Among those arrested were two ex-board presidents, one of whom allegedly changed failing grades as political favors for a friend. Authorities say more arrests could be on the horizon.”
I’m not saying there was fraud or wrongdoing in the SC bar exam case but it’s gotten so expensive to get professional degrees, I wonder if this has resulted in more pressure on the bar licensing organizations from applicants and others.