Why this story didn’t make my head explode, thus rating the KABOOM! label, is a mystery. My theory is that the truly idiotic and ignorant exclamations on Facebook by my usually rational friends about guns in the wake of the Orlando terrorist attack have gradually strengthened my skull’s tolerance to internal pressure.
Once again, I have encountered a news story that required me to check and see if it was a hoax.
Tamara Wyche is a 2013 Harvard Law School graduate who is suing the New York State Board of Law Examiners. She claims she twice failed the bar exam because it refused to provide the same kind of testing accommodations that the law school did for her in her exams there, in recognition of her various cognitive problems. The fact that she flunked while being forced to take the exam under the same rules as everyone else resulted in the large Boston law firm Ropes & Gray terminating her employment. You can read her complaint here.
I confess that I didn’t read all of it: I didn’t want to press my luck with the old cranium.
The 29-year-old Wyche says she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety as a first-year law student at Harvard, and also suffered several head injuries (?) that resulted in permanent memory problems and cognitive issues, requiring her to take several leaves of absence from her studies. She finally earned her law degree in 2013 thanks to Harvard granting her several doctor-recommended accommodations, including 50% extra time on tests, a separate testing room, and extra break time. She also was exempt from being called on in class, because of a propensity for anxiety and panic attacks.
Allow me to cut to the chase for a second, again in the interest of my dangerously bubbling brains, and perhaps yours.
This woman should not have been in law school. This woman was unqualified for law school. Harvard had an obligation to tell her so. Harvard had an obligation not to accommodate her, but rather to avoid giving her a Harvard Law School diploma with which she could mislead clients into believing she was a capable attorney. Harvard had an obligation not to keep collecting tuition from a student whom it had to know couldn’t possibly be a successful or competent lawyer.
The law is an infamously stressful profession requiring both skill and constant, dispassionate analysis It requires crisis management and competent performance under pressure, and is no place for someone with “cognitive problems” of any kind, memory difficulties, or special vulnerabilities to anxiety and panic attacks. As a legal ethicist, my position is that a lawyer like Wyche would be obligated to inform any potential client that she suffered from these problems, to which any potential clients (or employer) without their own cognitive deficiencies would respond, “I see. Well, thank for your candor! Can you recommend another lawyer?”
When Wyche applied to take the New York bar exam in July 2013, she asked for the same accommodations Harvard had provided her. The board allowed her extra break time and a smaller testing room, but she had a panic attack during the exam, and failed it. This, she says, began to undermine her standing as a “star” associate at Ropes & Gray. Ya think? Do you also think someone with cognitive deficiencies and memory problems would really be a “star” at that firm? Any firm? Would you want to hire a firm that regarded a lawyer with Wyche’s limitations as a “star’?
Tamara also failed a July 2014 bar exam even after the board granted her 50% extra time and a smaller testing room, but denied extra break time. The board finally granted her request for double time on the February 2015 bar exam, and Wyche finally passed, according to her suit. She implies this is because she finally had the necessary “accommodations.”
Funny, I would say that it was probably because she had already taken the exam twice. Useful fact: Passing the bar exam the first time just isn’t that difficult, and there is a rebuttable presumption that a lawyer who can’t do so either 1) didn’t study hard enough, implicating diligence and judgment or 2) shouldn’t have been in law school in the first place.
On the other hand, maybe this is why Ropes & Gray thought she might be a star. After all, it takes her twice as long to do what other lawyers do, and firms bill by the hour.
But seriously, folks, this is a ridiculous law suit, bordering on a frivolous one. The loss of a job at an elite law firm does not constitute damages, since the denial of special accommodations by the bar were not the proximate cause of this result. The law suit is also a blazing example of the Streisand Effect. After this sorry episode is known in the legal community, and it will be, what law firm in its right mind would hire this woman?
Source and Graphic: TaxProf Blog