Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

As The Online Bar Exam Ends In 18 States, What Does The Future Hold?

Bloomberg Law, ‘Serious Reexamination’ of Bar Exam Looms as Grads Sit for Test:

Over the last several decades critics have taken aim at the bar exam, arguing that it’s outmoded, discriminatory, and simply ineffective as a barometer of legal competence.

Reforms have been slow to come—but the pandemic, and the temporary fixes for 2020 adopted as a result by state authorities, may lead to longer-term improvements to a lawyer licensing system that has historically resisted change.

As state after state has struggled with how to administer the bar exam in the wake of the pandemic—or ask if the test should be given at all—one thing has become clear: The traditional bar exam soon could become a thing of the past.

“I expect that 2020 will mark the beginning of a serious reexamination of the role that bar exams play in the licensing of lawyers,” said Andrew Perlman, dean of Suffolk Law School in Boston, in a written statement. “I believe that, in the coming years, jurisdictions are going to start considering a range of new options for admitting lawyers to the bar.” ...

Two prominent legal groups, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, and the National Conference of Bar Examiners, have been studying the future of the bar exam since long before the pandemic struck. ...

The NCBE’s ongoing Testing Task Force so far has recognized the need for some reforms. According to its Phase 1 report issued last year, for example, the bar exam, which states break down into different component tests, should emphasize legal skills such as critical thinking and analysis more, and subject matter knowledge less. At the same time, multiple-choice questions, which are “not reflective of the way law is practiced,” should be reduced or eliminated. ...

In the IAALS study, which should be released next month, researchers have collected data from 50 focus groups in 18 locations across the country, said Deborah Jones Merritt, a professor with The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, in a written statement.

The groups were composed of new lawyers and their supervisors, and aimed to identify the knowledge and skills new lawyers need “to serve clients competently,” said Merritt, who is partnering with IAALS on the study. “Our findings suggest that we should make some significant changes in the licensing process.”

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