Should Texas Lower Bar Exam Standard?

Salatheia Bryant, Houston Chronicle, Jan. 1, 2006

Clifton Eames moved to Houston with big plans. Having just finished law school in Washington, D.C., in 2002, he hoped to open a small practice here, specializing in civil rights and discrimination cases.

His dream of helping others right legal wrongs hit a snag, however, when he got the results from his Texas bar exam. Eames failed the test. Three subsequent attempts also have ended in failure, leaving him with a law school degree but no license to practice.

Now, Eames is in a quandary. The State Bar of Texas limits to five the number of times a would-be lawyer can take the bar exam. Worried he could find himself shut out from practicing law in Texas altogether, Eames has decided not to take the test again in February, the next time it is offered.

Instead, the 34-year-old, sounding like the attorney he wants to be, is making it his mission to get the Texas rule changed.

“It needs to be changed. It’s not right,” Eames said recently. “It has never been right, and it will never be right. There’s no justification for it. I’m not going to stop until it’s changed.”

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Julia Vaughan, executive director of the Texas Board of Law Examiners, said the rule offers the public protection.

“People should and do pass it within five times,” Vaughan said. “It’s not enough to go to law school; you have to demonstrate what you know and how to apply it. It’s one tool we try to use to measure minimum competency.”

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Committee Chairman Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, who said he passed the bar on the first attempt, said five tries gives an applicant more than enough opportunity to pass.

“If you can’t pass the bar exam after the fifth time, you need to find something else to do with your life,” Wentworth said. “We think that’s sort of it. Five times is an extreme number of times to take it. It’s a matter of professional competency.”

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