Professionally Responsible? Could’ve Fooled Me

Earlier this month, before my self-imposed radio silence during the exam period, I received my results for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination.  I took the test, a pre-requisite to registering for the bar in most states, in early November, and waited six months for my scantron to be graded and placed on a curve.

Turns out that I passed.  One more obstacle to the bar down, several more to go.  I shouldn’t have given it a second thought, but my results made me think about the value of the test again.

Much like “Contracts” or “Property” classes in law school, it’s very easy to go through a Professional Responsibility exam without actually having to demonstrate any responsibility of any kind.   I did not have to turn down a client’s sexual advances, charge a client an appropriate retainer fee, or form a campaign committee for an elected state judge in order to demonstrate my responsible nature.

But the MPRE is not really testing your ethics and decision making standards.  Such a test would be infeasible to administer.  Additionally, the well-publicized stupid decisions of practicing attorneys would demonstrate that the test fails as a complete filter.  But the test quantifies (in the always-reliable multiple choice format) your ability to integrate these rules into your thought process.  The MPRE is an opportunity to demonstrate that you know what to think about when making decision as an attorney.

While this might seem like a strange process to most people, this is the basic focus of most law school classes – teaching you how to think, not what to think.  Three years of law school probably won’t enable most students to write a contract from scratch, or give a closing argument in a federal trial, or write a will for your grandmother’s estate.  But it will get you to think about adequate consideration, trial advocacy strategy, and the Rule Against Perpetuities.

Ultimately, in law school, you are going to be infinitely happier and saner if you think of the process in terms of the adoption of a new thought process instead of direct vocational training.