Deborah J. Merritt (Ohio State; Google Scholar), Sara J. Berman (Touro), Marsha Griggs (Washburn) & Carol Chomsky (Minnesota), This Year Is Still Different: An Outdated Bar Exam in Troubled Times:
Applicants for the July 2022 bar exam are buckling down for their final days of bar study. After two years of delays, remote testing, and other COVID-related changes, states have returned to traditional bar examination practices. For most applicants, this means two days of testing in large convention centers or hotel ballrooms. Following tradition, applicants will again answer questions from memory about a dozen or more doctrinal areas.
But this year’s examinees are different from those who preceded them. The pandemic overshadowed the entire law school career of 2022 graduates. Classes abruptly went online during their first year. Many received only pass/fail grades for their spring semester. That was essential relief for an upended semester, but the remedy deprived students of more nuanced information about their progress. ...
Now these graduates must prepare for a difficult exam that they know bears little relationship to their practice as fledgling lawyers.
Research by NCBE and others has confirmed this mismatch. A new exam may address some of these flaws, but that exam won’t be ready until 2026. Meanwhile, today’s graduates must recall hundreds of detailed rules from memory. They must also prepare to answer essay questions on conflicts of law, family law, secured transactions, and trusts and estates—all subjects that NCBE has decided need not be tested. And they will not have a chance to show their competence at negotiation, client counseling, and other skills that NCBE now acknowledges should be assessed.
As a profession, we have a responsibility to help today’s bar takers. Pandemic graduates carry a heavy load of mental distress. More than a third show symptoms of depression, and 11% have seriously considered suicide during the last year. Those burdens may impair their preparation for the bar exam and their performance on it. If they do, we can’t blame the graduates for the world that surrounds them. Nor can we blame the academic support faculty who are working double-time to help this group of graduates succeed. ...
This, we know, is not the best of times. Offer as much encouragement and support as you can to bar-takers this week. And get involved with activities in your state to reform our licensing system. Do it for both our graduates and the clients they will serve.