Standing on Ceremony

I’ve got time on my hands, so I can think of the questions you might have thought of yourself if only you’d had time. For example, if a lawyer has passed the bar but hasn’t had a swearing-in ceremony, is she or he really a lawyer? Are you an adult if you haven’t had a bat/bar mitvah?

I know you would have asked those things eventually — especially after reading the “Announcement About the June 2020 Admissions Ceremonies” issued by the State Bar of California. The statement tells us that because of Covid-19, there will be no June admissions ceremonies. Instead, new admittees can be sworn in virtually.

You might think that a virtual swear-in would be held via Zoom or something similar, with an official presiding. For some reason, the Bar didn’t think of that. Instead, new admittees are supposed to organize their own ceremonies. For this, the Bar provided three “guidelines.”

My favorite is the third one: “The virtual swearing-in ceremony happens.”

I guess that’s valuable advice. Some people might just imagine it happening.

I’ve been trying to picture some hapless lawyer being disciplined a decade from now for forgetting to hold a ceremony.

The Bar also provides a list of “appropriate” authorities who can conduct the ceremony. It’s a long list and includes “a shorthand court reporter” and “any county officer.” If it were me, I’d go with a Sanitation District officer because they could supervise cleanup after the ceremony is over.

The ceremonies announcement came, of course, after the announcement of results of the February California Bar exam. News outlets reported that the pass rate hit an all-time low of 26.8% — as if that were a bad thing. One story had a headline that included the phrase: “Almost Everyone Fails the California Bar Exam.”

This might surprise the 1,128 who did pass, but maybe I’m being picky.

The pass rate might be a bad thing or it might not — but before discussing that, we all need to take a look at the photo accompanying one story. Pretty impressive test-taking venue, don’t you think?

Can you spot anything odd about it? Can you recognize anyone in the photo?

Take your time.

OK, the second question was a trick question. To answer the first question, check out the upper right corner of the photo. Why are those three guys helping another guy on the test? Why is that woman peering at another woman’s answers? How did someone smuggle a camera into the test room? Where is the security for this exam?

I’ll tell you where: Serbia.

It’s a photo of some students taking a university exam in Belgrade. has apparently used this picture repeatedly to illustrate bar exam stories. If you can’t take a picture at a real American bar exam, I guess any photo of people writing will do. We get the general idea.

(Personally, I would have gone with a courtroom sketch artist’s rendition of a Bar exam rather than a bunch of Serbians, but there’s no accounting for taste.)

Anyway, should we be distressed that only 28.6% of Serbian — I mean, Californian — applicants passed the exam? If you look at the numbers provided by the Bar, you discover that the mean score on the Multistate Bar Exam in California is a lot higher than it was for the rest of the country.

And this is in a state that is one of the few that allows people who don’t go to American Bar Association-accredited schools to take the test.

So California applicants did really well. Congratulate yourselves, admittees, and go find a Sanitation District official for your ceremony.

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