Op-ed: Prepare us for the Bar, Stanford

May 24, 2018, 5:00 a.m.

Graduation. The excitement on campus – or dread, as it may be – is palpable. Parents are securing accommodations for the big day, students are busy polishing off their final papers (and their favorite cheap beer) and the law school is failing to offer a low-cost, Stanford-run option to study for the Bar Exam.

As it stands, Stanford Law School does not provide Bar Exam preparation materials to its roughly 180 graduating students. You read that right. One of the best law schools in the country farms out its most important responsibility to third-party test prep companies such as BarBri. Students part ways with an additional $4,000 to purchase their Bar prep course; this excludes the roughly $1,200 it costs just to sign up for the California Bar exam.

Eighty percent of Stanford Law students graduated with an average debt of $131,745 in 2017.

A Stanford Law grad with this debt at 6.8 percent interest can expect to make 120 payments of roughly $1,520 over the next 10 years. Start counting up from one to get a sense of just how many $1,520 payments that actually is. All for a total of about $182,000 in interest and principal, not including the more than $100,000 many students paid upfront. Very few graduates will actually pay their debt down in 10 years.

It is untoward for an academic institution to leave its indebted students to pay an additional $4,000 to private for-profit companies to prepare for the Bar. We came to Stanford Law School with the expectation that the institution would fully prepare us to become lawyers. In this crucial last step Stanford Law School has failed to deliver.

Private law firms, which many students begin law school intent on not working for, provide their incoming associates with cash advances or bonuses to cover these costs. This makes it harder for students with debt to work in low-paying public interest jobs after graduation. So far, students are the only ones who have tried to fix this. The student-run Stanford Public Interest Law Foundation offers a small number of Bar grants for up to $2,000 to students going into public interest jobs. These grants are funded in large part by law student donations.

Stanford Law School has a responsibility to step in and provide Bar preparation to its students. It is unconscionable for the Law School to ask current students to pay $200,000 in tuition without also providing us adequate resources to prepare for the Bar.

A small portion of next year’s 3 to 5 percent tuition increase should be spent on a Stanford-run bar preparation program. The vast majority of students will go on to practice in California, New York and D.C. Developing materials and hiring an instructor for each of these jurisdictions would be a good place to start.

—Shane Seppinni, J.D. ’18

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