The 2012 Netflix documentary Somm recently uncorked the world of wine exams for me. Somm follows four American wine professionals preparing for the Court of Master Sommelier exam. While I watched the four men tirelessly and obsessively study for the exam, I was sent back to the days leading up to my bar exam.
In order to become a Master Sommelier, one must have successfully passed all four examinations: (1) Introductory Sommelier Course and Exam, (2) Certified Sommelier Exam, (3) Advanced Sommelier Course and Exam, and (4) Master Sommelier Diploma Exam.
The Master-level exam is invite-only. In order to apply, applicants must pass the first three sommelier exams and have a recommendation from a mentor Master Sommelier. The Master exam is broken up into three separate sections: deductive tasting, theory, and practical service. In order to pass, the candidates must receive a minimum 75% score in each section. Successful candidates receive a pin signifying their certification as a sommelier by the Court of Master Sommeliers.
Due to the strenuous examination process, the passage rate is low. There are only 249 professionals around the world who have received the title of Master Sommelier, 158 in the Americas chapter. It is estimated that a mere 8% of candidates are successful.
The Court of Master Sommeliers made a determination that their profession is best served through a scarcity principle. As a Master, you are a member of the internationally recognized Court of Master Sommeliers. You are considered to have reached the highest level of proficiency and knowledge in your profession.
While no one has ever complained of a scarcity of lawyers in Michigan, in 2012 the Michigan bar exam appeared to be moving us closer in that direction. The Michigan bar passage rate fell to 62% of first-time takers. In comparison, 76% of first-time takers passed in 2011, 80% in 2010, and 81% in 2009. Could this lower passage rate of the bar exam create more confidence in the profession? Or should we create a new master of the law exam in which you smell a casebook and determine liability?