Alex Haden '17
For those of you who aren’t 3Ls or super gunnery 2Ls, a few weeks ago was 2016’s final iteration of the much-beloved legal ethics test, the MPRE. The MPRE stands for Making People Really Ethical, which is ironic, because no one really prepares for this test for more than a day or two. For that one uncle in your family who always makes “crooked lawyer” jokes at Thanksgiving, you can show him this article to detail the excruciating and needless pain that the MPRE forces law school students to endure.
The first ridiculous thing about the MPRE is that it’s one of those multiple choice tests where you have to select the BEST answer. Not the correct answer. The best answer. Anyone who suffered through these miserable kinds of tests as a kid knows the absolute absurdity of these kinds of questions. For example: “Which of the following is a type of weather? A. games B. pain C. lead pencils D. chair.” The correct answer is B, pain, because it rhymes with “rain.” BEST ANSWER. Get out of here.
The MPRE is supposed to test us on our ability to be ethical lawyers by posing various hypotheticals to us. The laughable part of these hypotheticals is that somehow we, as junior or less-than-junior attorneys, could ever be in such positions of power where we could be unethical. The only applicable question is the one where your supervising attorney tells you to do Action X, even though you think Action X violates the Rules of Professional Responsibility. The laughably “correct” answer is that you shouldn’t do Action X and tell your boss exactly why. I’d like to meet the first-year associate who informs the partner, “Your conduct might be running afoul of one of the Model Rules and I’d like you to reconsider your action.”
The MPRE is also somewhat useless because we are being tested on the Model Rules, which very few, if any, states actually have adopted in their entirety. It seems silly to learn about rules that may not actually be applicable for our jurisdiction, especially if the real rules are actually the opposite of the Model Rules. If only there were a test designed specifically for our jurisdiction that was designed to make sure we were competent for that specific jurisdiction. But since there isn’t any such test that we will have to take after law school, we are forced to take the MPRE to become ethical.
The other substantive annoying aspect of the MPRE is that we have to learn about the judicial code of ethics. As in, the code of ethics for JUDGES. Why on earth would that be necessary for us to be proper lawyers? Most of us will never become judges, and for the few of us who will become judges, that career move won’t happen for at least three decades. We’ll be lucky enough if we remember torts when we’re that age, let alone remembering what campaign contributions are acceptable for us to receive from family members and political parties.
Then there are the 500 crazy procedural hoops that you have to jump through just to get to test day. First, you have to pay a ridiculous sum of money – ninety-five dollars – just to be able to sit for the test. Heaven forbid that you miss the early registration deadline, or else you are subjected to the late registration fee: $190. Do you know how many drinks at the Bilt that is? Enough to make you more ethical than the MPRE will help you to be. Also, the test is only offered three times a year, at extremely inconvenient times: (1) right around spring break; (2) in August, during vacation time after working for the summer; and (3) in November. Usually we’re busy working on our no-shave November beards right now. So these times aren’t really great for our schedule.
Then, you have to carefully print out your exam ticket (don’t be fooled, it’s not a fun kind of ticket). You then have to secure a passport photo that you can attach to the ticket. You might be confused by this requirement. Wouldn’t a government-issued ID be much more simple to prove your identity? You’re right, but a government-issued ID is ALSO required to take the test. The passport photo is just gravy on top of your passport or driver’s license, which apparently isn’t all that official or valid for the MPRE administration. So you’ve gotta march down to CVS and get your passport photo taken, which costs a whopping $13. CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS MADNESS? IT’S LIKE CVS AND THE MPRE ARE IN CAHOOTS! FOLLOW THE MONEY. Plus, that guy at CVS who takes the photos is very chatty and asks a lot about your day and law school, and I’m really just trying to get home and talk to no one.
Then, once you’ve secured said passport photo, you have to tape – NOT STAPLE – the photo to your admission ticket. However, the photo has to fit inside of the specified box, and the box is too small to fit a standard passport photo. So you have to cut your photo down to an acceptably small but not too small size, just to appease the MPRE Gods who will rip up your ticket and your future if you fail to follow their exact instructions. You are also forbidden from bringing a cellphone, which makes some amount of sense; however, the testers will suggest that those who accidentally brought a phone should hide it in the bushes outside for “safekeeping.”
The rest of the requirements are also strict and draconian. The MPRE subscribes to the ridiculous requirement that we use number two lead. I don’t even know what that means. It has something to do with how soft the lead is, but what does that mean? Don’t answer questions with questions please. Also, it’s 2016. It’s time that we make a machine that can read pen like a freaking adult. You also aren’t allowed to bring a watch in, because knowing the time is unethical. Unless you’re billing for it. But you can’t bill for the MPRE. Or for being ethical. And apparently, at UVa, you’ll have to contend with screaming sorority girls outside of your testing room for half an hour.
All in all, the MPRE is a series of nonsensical hurdles that require you to bend, twist, limbo, and contort yourself to attempt to pass. And if you don’t manage to pick enough of the “best” answers, you have to repeat the entire process. One day, someone in power will realize the folly of this test, or we’ll all get smart like Maryland and stop requiring it. But until that time, I wish you luck on the test, and remember, always pick the second-most ethical answer. Which is answer B.
1 Or you can just have some more Thanksgiving cheer, a.k.a. vodka and cranberry sauce.