Susan Smith Blakely

What’s Up With the July Bar Exam?

Just when we thought that the legal profession was finally showing signs of thinking with a new collective brain while problem solving during a pandemic, along came the July Bar Exam, and bar examiners across the country short circuited and set us back again.  They have demonstrated once again that the profession is archaic and stuck in past practices just for the sake of it.  Certainly not for the logic of it.   Here is a link to provide some of the sordid details about how this has unfolded.  

It is amazing to see bar examiners struggle with decisions of whether to continue in-person exams or initiate on-line exams or some additional options (like diploma privilege) for this ONE YEAR when the planet is on fire.  FOR THIS ONE YEAR.  And the arguments centering on “quality control” and “competence to practice” seem especially specious under these circumstances. 

There has been a great debate for years whether law schools adequately prepare graduates to practice law.   Many legal commenters have weighed in with a resounding “no”, and most law school graduates would raise the stakes with “hell no” as they evaluate the cost of their legal educations against how competent to practice they feel upon graduation.

Ask the Wisconsin Bar Association how many of its lawyers are deemed incompetent because of diploma privilege, which confers a license to practice based on a diploma from one of the two law schools in the state and has been alive and well in Wisconsin for generations.  If it was a problem, you can bet that the bar would have changed the policy.  No state wants to encourage and tolerate incompetence among its lawyers.  I know a little about this.  My Dad was one of those Wisconsin lawyers, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin Law School and benefitted from diploma privilege, and I can tell you he was anything but incompetent.  If you are interested, you can read about him in my book, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers, 2018).  

However, the debate about the value of bar exams will go on.  But, the immediate need for reasonable and responsible action cannot.   Time is of the essence.  It is September, and the current bar exam fiasco is still up in the air in many jurisdictions.  The elitist attitudes of too many lawyers seems to be that THEY had to take the bar exam and all law graduates need to take the bar exam.  End of discussion.  No exceptions.  Even when matters of health and safety should lead to a different conclusion. 

Here is an article describing some of the fallout from a decision-making process that has failed.  More than 20 jurisdictions held in-person bar exams in July and many of those jurisdictions failed to adhere to public health guidelines in spite of the warnings about COVID-19.  As the bar examiners bite their nails and ponder, law school graduates, mostly young people with huge student loan debts and seemingly wrecked futures, fall by the wayside.  

I read their accounts on line, and I cannot help but be disappointed in my profession. What are we thinking?


Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her third book in the series, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, focuses on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and was released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

 Ms. Blakely’s new book for ALL young lawyers, What Millennial Lawyers Want:  A Bridge from the Past to the Future of Law Practice, will be released by Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers in the summer of 2018.

 Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including Corporate Counsel Magazine, the ABA Journal, the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, Women Lawyers Journal (NAWL), DC Spotlight,, Daily Muse, Lawyer and Statesman,, Georgetown Law Magazine, Legal Toolkit Podcast, and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues in business and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" and the Lawyer Monthly “Women in Law Award 2016” for her work on behalf of women in the law. 

 Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and is certified as a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit 


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