National Law Journal op-ed: Too Much Power Rests with the National Conference of Bar Examiners, Nicholas W. Allard (Dean, Brooklyn):
Trying to improve the broken bar-exam system for licensing lawyers has been for too long like tilting at windmills while singing “The Impossible Dream.”
There is a disconnection between what the bar exam tests and what the American Bar Association and law schools require students to learn. Graduates must enroll in costly cram courses, forgo gainful employment for almost three months and incur collectively hundreds of millions of dollars in costs and lost income to survive the semiannual culling of the herd. Nor does the bar exam, which relies heavily on questions developed and scored by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, measure what one needs to know to be an effective lawyer.
Last July’s historic nationwide drop in the bar passage rate brought into sharp focus the urgent need to overhaul a system that ill serves the public, the profession and certainly the graduates of our law schools. Over the past several months, fellow deans across the country have asked for a complete, credible and accurate explanation of the July 2014 results. We still are waiting.
Unfortunately, the National Conference of Bar Examiners has been dismissive of our concerns and unforthcoming with critical information. Perhaps in an attempt to stave off a deeper look into what happened with the July exam, the National Conference president wrote to law school deans in October, before the results became public and before anyone knew there was a problem, that its internal “review” showed “the results are correct.” Blame was placed squarely on the test-takers themselves, with the National Conference president calling them “less able” than the group that sat in July 2013.
This is unsupported nonsense. In fact, expert commentators have shown through statistical analysis that, contrary to the claims by the National Conference, the Law School Admission Test scores in 2014 were comparable to the previous year’s and that, in any event, the bar-exam results do not correlate with any measurable change in LSATs. An important new expert analysis by Professor Deborah Merritt at Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law strongly suggests that National Conference of Bar Examiners’ scoring errors were the source of the problem with the July 2014 exam. Clearly, we need a better, more open and more honest way to license lawyers. ...
[W]e need an independent audit of the July 2014 bar-exam results and all results going forward. A national permanent commission should be established that, on an ongoing basis, would study, evaluate and make recommendations on how to efficiently and accurately measure competency and reduce barriers and costs to entering the profession. Commission members should be appointed by a national leader with sufficient status and independence of the testing industry and its web of interests, such as the chief justice of the United States or the U.S. attorney general. The commission should include state chief justices, law school deans, practitioners, public and private interest groups and consumers of legal services.
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