Jeremy's Weblog

I recently graduated from Harvard Law School. This is my weblog. It tries to be funny. E-mail me if you like it. For an index of what's lurking in the archives, sorted by category, click here.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

There's a New York Times piece today, entitled, Are Lawyers Being Overbilled for Their Test Preparation? about Bar/Bri and whether it violates the antitrust laws. Interesting stuff.

Every year, between 35,000 and 40,000 people graduate from the nearly 200 law schools approved by the American Bar Association, and many take a BAR/BRI review course. In New York alone, according to the company's Web site, "more bar candidates trusted BAR/BRI to prepare them for the New York bar exam than all other bar courses combined."

The course is not cheap: next summer's eight-week review for the New York bar exam given in July costs more than $2,600. Given the relatively low costs of providing the courses - while some students attend live lectures, many gather in hotel conference rooms and simply watch videotapes of professors, meaning BAR/BRI's cost is primarily the hotel room, television set and VCR - it is clear that BAR/BRI's business is highly lucrative. Thomson does not break out BAR/BRI's contribution to its revenue or profits, but Stanley D. Chess, a former top executive at BAR/BRI who left to join a short-lived competitor, said: "Bar review is a very profitable business."


BAR/BRI advertises its bar review course heavily at law schools and hires law students to serve as its on-campus representatives (they pay no or reduced tuition for the course and have sometimes received cash bonuses). Students who sign up in their first year of law school pay less than students who sign up later, and the sooner a student puts down a deposit, the sooner that student locks in the final cost of tuition.

It is hard to overstate the anxiety the bar exam provokes. Over all, it can take more than 12 hours over two days. The multistate portion of the exam is required by nearly every state and is the same in those states; it consists of 200 multiple-choice questions. Each state's exam, typically the second day, usually consists of essays and multiple-choice questions that focus on the law in that particular state. The kinds of questions often require knowledge of topics that some students might not have learned about in school, adding to the allure of a review course aimed precisely at the topics on the exam.

My favorite line of the article: "'You absolutely have to take a bar review course to pass the bar,' said Lisa M. Gintz, who is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and is now practicing family law in Baton Rouge, La."

Uh, no. I'm not disputing it can provide value. But you can do everything Bar/Bri does, for a tiny fraction of the cost, if you're willing to put in the effort and time. And you can do less than that and still pass. It's scare tactics like that --"you absolutely have to" -- that cause law student panic and make everyone pay $2600 to Bar/Bri. If a law firm is paying for it, sure, why not? If you don't think you can pass without it, then, yeah, take it. But buy some books, read them, do some practice tests... even ignoring my own experience I can't fathom that Bar/Bri has somehow found a way to teach people how to pass the Bar Exam that cannot be replicated by anyone on their own, and is more efficient than a more customized study plan someone can come up with by him or herself.

Bar/Bri's a schoolyard bully. That's basically what the article says.