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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Queen Of The Multistate Bar Exam Bids Adieu

Erica MoeserNational Law Journal, Queen of the Multistate Bar Exam Bids Adieu:

Erica Moeser has long been the face of the National Conference of Bar Examiners — the organization that designs and administers the all-important Multistate Bar Exam used by jurisdictions nationwide.

On Aug. 21, she’ll put down her No. 2 pencil, hand in her Scantron sheet and retire from Wisconsin-based NCBE after 23 years as president. She will be replaced by current director of test operations Judith Gundersen, who has worked at the conference since 2000.

During her tenure, Moeser oversaw a push to professionalize how the test is put together and launched the Uniform Bar Exam drive. The uniform exam allows takers to transport their scores to participating jurisdictions without having to retake the test, and 28 different jurisdictions have signed on since 2010.

More recently, Moeser has served as the bar exam’s defender-in-chief against critics who blame the test itself for plummeting pass rates across the country over the past three years — a decline she attributes to law schools lowering their admission standards. She also has challenged naysayers who claim the bar exam doesn’t assess the skills and knowledge lawyers need in practice, and she has been a vocal proponent of the American Bar Association’s ongoing effort to raise the bar pass minimum that law schools must meet to stay accredited.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Moeser has promoted the idea that the bar exam is fundamentally a tool to protect the public from incompetent lawyers. We caught up with Moeser recently to discuss her departure and the future of the bar exam. Her answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Why are you stepping down now?

I think the time has come. I turned 71 on the first of June, and at some point you think, “Life is finite,” and you want to see what else there is to do when you aren’t doing this all the time. ...

People like to note that you never actually took the bar exam. You were admitted through Wisconsin’s unique diploma privilege program. Over the years, did you ever take the test just out of curiosity?

No. I subjected myself to small parts of it during exercises where we were evaluating questions. But at this stage in the game, I’m sure I’d set a new low if I took the test. I think what people fail to appreciate is when you work in bar admissions for 40 years, you do learn a thing or two. The fact that I didn’t take the bar exam is probably not a fatal flaw.

The State Bar of California is currently gathering public opinion on a proposal to lower its notoriously high cut score from 144 to 141. What do you think they should do?

Personally, I’ve thought that the California cut score was high and probably would benefit by a review, and that a review would yield a result that would suggest it should be lower. I gather that’s what has happened, which I think is to the benefit. I don’t see the era of the uniform cut score occurring, certainly, in my lifetime. But I do see some convergence of cut scores.

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I agree that there is something a bit “off” with the fact that the NCBE resides in the capital of a state that waives virtually all of its lawyers into practice without requiring them to take the profession’s standard licensing exam. This “diploma privilege” is justified under the transparent fiction that the state’s two law schools—which teach from the same casebooks and teaching methods that every other law school uses—somehow manage to so well-train their students in the intricacies of Wisconsin law that no bar exam is needed. I don’t mean to criticize Wisconsin for not requiring the bar (though I do criticize it for requiring lawyers educated outside the state and who wish to practice in Wisconsin to take it). Rather, I think that the fact that Wisconsin can get away without requiring the bar—and without doing anything all that special in terms of requiring extra, compensatory training in law school—amply illustrates that the bar exam is, or with limited effort could be, entirely unneeded. This is especially so as jurisdictions move to a standardized exam that doesn’t require any knowledge of state-specific aspects of the law.

Posted by: Jason Yackee | Aug 20, 2017 12:26:32 PM

On Aug. 21, she’ll ... retire from Wisconsin-based NCBE

Good heavens you have to be kidding? A bar exam org based in the only diploma-privilege state in the union???

Posted by: Huh | Aug 20, 2017 12:34:47 PM

I make a motion to move NCBE to New Orleans. Who's going to second it?

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Aug 20, 2017 5:54:36 PM