The Ethics of Future Lawyers

Studying for the Bar Exam is pure misery.  The exam itself is torture.  I am my students’ tormentor.  Twice a year, during the February and July bar cycles, I watch the lows and highs of California Bar Candidates as they study for and then pass the bar exam.  Mere days after graduation, burgeoning attorneys are burdened by the demands of the Bar Exam, trudging to class and trying to remain strong as they navigate the waters of the most difficult task they have ever undertaken.  (So far!  But don’t tell them that.)

As a general rule, Bar Candidates are exhausted, mentally and physically drained, and yet they persevere, slogging through the mountain of information they must know in order to pass the exam.  Some days, the students don’t find the time to shower.  Men boast not just a five o’clock shadow, but the unruly growth resulting from a months-long untouched razor.  Women forsake their hairbrushes in favor of a haphazard ponytail or a sloppy bun fastened with a pencil.  They don their pajamas and (occasionally) fuzzy slippers, which they wear to class, carrying blankets to help them get through the day.  They are stressed.  They are overwhelmed.  My poor students.

I hope these students know how proud I am of them for putting their studies above fashion (and sometimes hygiene).  Their unkempt appearance is, in many ways, a badge of honor.  I watch them pound 20-ounce cups of sugar-laden coffee drinks during a five-minute break, and I know they are hoping the combination of sugar and caffeine will give them the jolt they need to get through another lengthy lecture about property, corporations, or evidence...  These students soldier on toward the exam, hoping by some miracle they will be able to avoid an essay that tests them on their weakest subject, fearing they will face precisely that enemy.

Although these students could use a break, and perhaps a shower, I have every confidence in them.  They are troopers.

I worry about a much different breed of individuals who are studying for the exam.  While my students are overwrought and sleep-deprived, they have their counterparts – many of whom reach out to me for private tutoring after being unsuccessful at the exam four, five, six, or more times.  Despite their “bar studies,” these candidates always find time for a night out and are always current on Whatever-TV-Show-Is-Trendy-Right-Now.   They go through their studies while remaining neatly-groomed, well-dressed, and amply rested.  I wonder … if these students become attorneys, will they conform their behavior to Rule 3-110?  Will they diligently and competently represent their clients?  Will they truly understand that Business and Professions Code § 6068(e) transforms confidentiality from a legal concept into a real way of life as an attorney?  Or will they “borrow” forms without understanding how they work or what they mean, and gossip freely about their clients?

My poor tortured students, who are hobbling through these last few study days, will burst with pride when they get their results.  I will see them at the Swearing-In Ceremony with pressed suits, bright smiles, and a beaming family in tow.  And I will worry not.  Their counterparts will be notably absent.

– Jennifer K. Gilman, Interim Director of Bar Programs, California Western School of Law

**No portion of this summary is intended to constitute legal advice. Be sure to perform independent research and analysis. Any views expressed are those of the author only and not of the SDCBA or its Legal Ethics Committee.**