Letters: Bar discussion
I would like to say that I was surprised by Stephanie Francis Ward’s article, “Examining the Bar,” October-November, page 56, that questioned the need for the bar exam, but I am not at all surprised by it. This concept stems from the dumbing down of colleges and universities that have dispensed with SAT and ACT requirements, thereby making it a foregone conclusion that professional licensing exams would be the next requirement to fall. I am against that idea for one reason: The bar exam legitimatizes the profession of law.
I have seen this trend show up in other professional licensing contexts, namely social work. In New Jersey, the idea of dispensing with the social work licensing exam also is being touted. Where does this come from? It comes from people who are not able to pass these exams because universities are admitting unqualified people as students since the schools are just looking at the tuition money and not at who is capable of practicing social work. This same trend is happening with law schools.
I am a licensed attorney in two states, and I am also a licensed clinical social worker. To be able to practice law, I had to pass the bar exam. To be able to practice social work, I had to pass the licensed social worker exam, and then after two years of clinical practice, I had to pass a licensed clinical social worker exam. These exams weed out people from those who are not capable. I had to study very hard for all these exams, and I had to pass them for the privilege of practicing in the fields of law and social work. These exams create a standard, and without them, that standard is gone. Life is not fair; just because you want to be a lawyer or a social worker does not mean you should be.
What if the medical licensing boards and the engineering boards decided to do away with their exams? What would happen to patients and to society if ill-equipped doctors were permitted to practice medicine and if unqualified engineers were allowed to design bridges? The bar exam maintains standards that enhance the legal profession. Doing away with it risks weakening the legal profession.
Trenton, New Jersey
I was disappointed in the story “Forced Labor?” August-September, page 52, because it fails to distinguish the values the public expects in publicly funded services from the effective and efficient delivery of those services.
The entity directly accountable to the public—the government agency—should be excoriated for failing to have ethical standards and/or for enforcing them by terminating contracts when they’re not met. Government agencies have the power to establish the quality conditions that have to be met (how people should be treated, what they should be paid for work, e.g.), to vet companies applying to provide those services and to take corrective action against those companies when standards are not met—including termination of contracts. This article lets those agencies off the hook and suggests that specific private companies or private companies in general are to blame. Prisons operated by government agencies are just as capable of—and have a track record of—treating people inhumanely as private corporations.
“Getting private prison corporations out of the business of incarcerating human beings” won’t solve the problem. Making the lives of all affected by incarceration better will. And that is done through lawmaking that establishes ethical treatment and by well-run government agencies holding themselves—if they’re providing the service—or contracted corporations accountable for meeting those ethical standards.
Legal drama king
Regarding “Legal Sleaze,” August-September, page 32: what an unjustified cheap shot at Perry Mason. Granted, the cases may not be as complex or as politically charged as those on some legal dramas today, and the portrayals of characters and dialogue reflect the prevailing mores of midcentury America. But to call Hamilton Burger not a hero, not sympathetic and not very competent is unfair.
Start with the plausible presumption that he won all his cases except against the clever Mason, who sometimes arguably crossed lines. Burger does not pursue defendants whom he is not really convinced are guilty; in almost all the episodes he produces sufficient evidence to bind the defendant over for trial, and only then does Mason pull a rabbit out of the hat and induce the real murderer to break down in court and confess.
Outside of court, Burger and the police detectives are almost always polite and genuinely friendly with their nemesis Mason in a way that seems oddly quaint today.
As an aside, watching Perry Mason and seeing what was considered a large sum of money back then is a sad reminder of the ensuing decades of inflation. But on the plus side, the producers assembled one of the best collections of the era’s high-end automobiles that one can see on television today.
Lawrence, New York