The Right Coast

December 05, 2005
Bar Prep Litigation Purgatory
By Maimon Schwarzschild

You probably shouldn't be surprised that bar exam prep courses can be very profitable, and -- what with law students and lawyers being involved -- that they readily turn litigious. The Sunday New York Times has a quietly hilarious story about the BAR/BRI company, and the latest antitrust litigation against it.
This is not [the plaintiff's] first run at BAR/BRI. An enthusiastic talker with wavy white hair and a breezy delivery, he filed an antitrust lawsuit against the company once before, in May 1992. He represented American Professional Testing Service Inc., which offered a bar review course in California, Arizona, Nevada and Florida, and had plans to expand into other states.

American accused BAR/BRI, then owned by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, of mounting a "campaign to forestall competition" by flooding law school campuses with fliers that suggested American was implicated in a federal securities investigation, according to court documents. (The federal investigation forced American's parent company into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings in 1991.)

A federal appellate court described American's accusations this way: "American claims Harcourt offered its courses at below-cost prices, provided gratuities to law school administrators to obtain preferential treatment, and ripped down American's advertising materials. American also maintains that Harcourt's alleged predatory hiring of American Professor Robert Jarvis, who also taught at BAR/BRI, 'crippled American's effort to compete in the Florida market.' "
The Times story has lots of quotes from Stan Chess, who used to be a senior salaryman at BAR/BRI, before quitting to work on his own account, only to be sued (of course) by BAR/BRI. I well remember Chess from my own bar course experience, a year or two after BAR/BRI was founded: a comically enthusiastic salesman type, more or less from Central Casting, who turned up at the course site, trying to placate the discontented -- no easy task. A year or two later I heard wry stories about the first lawsuits against him (or rather, against BAR/BRI) by unhappy and litigious customers.

All concerned have my sympathy. There have to be easier ways to earn a living: ways that are sure to be less fraught with lawsuits, anyhow.