Tuesday, May 1, 2018
I, along with about 40 other bar-exam professionals, attended the inaugural AccessLex Bar Exam Research Forum in Washington, D.C. on April 26, 2018.
The morning began with a keynote address entitled "The Bar Exam and the Future of Legal Education" presented by Patricia D. White, Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Miami School of Law. Dean White outlined her role as the chair of a new 10-person Commission on the Future of Legal Education, an initiative of American Bar President Hilarie Bass. She explained that she and her fellow committee members intend to investigate: (1) the skill set needed to practice law, (2) access to justice issues, and (3) bar exam licensure requirements. Dean White then spoke about the potential causes for the "downturn" in nationwide MBE scores in 2014 and what it really means to be "minimally competent" to practice law. I found Dean White's presentation to be insightful, innovative, and inspiring. If you ever have the chance to hear her speak, I highly recommend it!
Rodney Fong, Associate Dean at The John Marshall Law School, spoke briefly about "Breaking Bar Pass Barriers Today" before we broke into our first of two working group sessions. Our task for the first working group session was to identify what research needs to be conducted to ensure that today's law students pass today's bar exams. The working groups suggested developing a database that includes detailed background information on each test taker, similar to the LSAC's handling of the LSAT; increasing collaboration between the ABA, NCBE, and the numerous state boards; and drawing upon other higher education disciplines and professional schools for guidance.
After lunch, Judith Welch Wegner, Professor Emerita and Dean Emerita of the University of North Carolina School of Law, discussed "The Future of the Bar Exam," focusing on what tomorrow's bar exam should look like and why. We then broken into our second working group session, with the goal of identifying what research needs to be conducted to produce the best new bar exam format by 2025. The working groups didn't hold back, offering suggestions ranging from administering sections of the bar exam after each year of law school to eliminating the exam entirely.
In short, AccessLex put together an extremely innovative and collaborative forum. With 40 key stakeholders in the same room (including representatives from the ABA and NCBE, law school deans, academic support professionals, statisticians, and higher education specialists), everyone was able to really dive deep into thoughtful discussions about how best to improve legal education generally, and the bar exam specifically. The program concluded with AccessLex inviting participants to apply for its inaugural Bar Success Research Grant. Initial letters of inquiry for the grant will be accepted during the month of May.