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West gives Bar/Bri run for bar-review market


As if taking the Maryland Bar exam hasn't caused enough gray hairs, law school graduates soon will be confronting a new and potentially confusing array of choices when picking a bar review course.

West Publishing Co., the largest publisher of legal materials in the United States, is the latest entry in the hotly competitive bar-review arena. The company plans to launch its course in Maryland next summer, according to Stanley D. Chess, chairman and CEO of West Professional Education Group.

Unclear for now, however, is who West will be competing against for lecturers and students.

Bar/Bri, a review course offered in 46 states, is well-established in Maryland. A third course is possible if University of Baltimore professor Byron Warnken strikes out on his own after the demise of the SMH Bar Review Course.

Mr. Warnken, SMH's longtime course director, apparently has options. Both West and Bar/Bri are courting him, hoping to benefit from his reputation locally as the guru of bar review instructors.

"Byron has assembled probably the best course run by SMH in the country," said Mr. Chess, who acknowledged that West has

talked with Mr. Warnken.

Said Bar/Bri chairman Richard Convisor: "We have been talking with a number of [former SMH lecturers] to see what makes sense. So many factors come into play. Right now, I don't know."

For his part, Mr. Warnken said he hoped his situation would be clarified next week.

"I really thought it would have been resolved by now. Only because you'd like to hit the deck running the day law school begins [in the fall]. That didn't happen," Mr. Warnken said.

Bar review courses -- intensive, eight-week lecture series -- are considered essential preparation by many law school graduates taking the bar exam.

Courses commonly boast of 80 percent pass rates, and higher, among their students. That is 10 to 15 points higher than among all students taking the Maryland exam. West, which is based in Minnesota, formally announced its bar review venture early this year.

Mr. Chess said the bar review course "is a logical outgrowth of what West already does."

In Maryland, the July bar exam was taken by about 1,600 graduates, enough to keep the lecture halls filled for Bar/Bri and SMH.

"Very few marketplaces have supported three courses," Mr. Chess said. "It's just the economics. It is very expensive to run a successful program."

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