The apocryphal story of a single lawyer in town almost starving until a second one arrived to put in play the adversarial system in which attorneys thrive is no doubt a stretch.
But even if it contains a smidgen of truth, there’s hardly a hamlet in Mississippi where at least two lawyers are not within easy reach.
That is if you can afford one. There is a case to be made that the poor are underserved by the legal system, but there’s no guarantee that more lawyers — especially if they are incompetent — would alleviate that condition any more than they would exacerbate it.
So a shortage of lawyers isn’t among this state’s major problems, nor is a report that the percentage of law school graduates passing the bar exam to become licensed attorneys has been showing sharp declines lately.
Several years ago, the passage rate was as high as 80 percent. Recently released results of the July Mississippi bar exam showed 53 percent passed. The good news is it was better than it was in February when only about one-third passed. The exam is given twice a year.
Mississippi isn’t alone in law school graduates who don’t pass the bar. Many other states, including nearby Florida, are experiencing declines. The American Bar Association reported in April that the national bar passing rate fell to 58 percent in 2016, the lowest rate in a decade.
Some suggest that law schools are accepting less qualified students than in earlier years, and that may be true. It’s more than likely a combination of factors, including more young people who graduate without the necessary scientific and technical skills to get good jobs opting to stay in school for a few more years either on borrowed money, grants or with parental support.
Whatever the reasons, the answer is not to dumb down the bar examination. The solution, if there is a problem, lies at the law schools. They either need to raise their admission standards or do a better job of preparing those who are admitted.
Sure, we need lawyers. The kind who can pass the bar exam.