Monday, January 13, 2020

The Allure and Allusion of Score Portability

The Uniform Bar Examination (“UBE”) has juggernauted from an idea to the primary gateway for entry into the practice of law. To the resounding support of law graduates and law schools, a supermajority of states has abandoned individual state law exams for a uniform exam written by a private entity. The UBE is the exam of the future and I anticipate that at least three more states will have adopted the UBE by year end. The UBE remedies many voiced complaints about varying degrees of exam quality and exam difficulty across states. Perhaps the most touted feature of the UBE is score portability.

UBE takers may "port" or transfer their scores into other UBE states, thus, relieving examinees from the arduous chore of having to sit anew for a bar exam. However, the promise of score portability is allusive at best. Transfer procedures vary by state. The fees to transfer one’s UBE score may be as high as $1700, possibly more than the cost of taking the bar exam in the transferring state.[1] For a majority of students who exit law school burdened with student loan debt, these transfer costs will make the promise of portability unrealizable.

According to attorney and bar prep professional Ashley Heidemann, “the UBE is not as portable as law students are led to believe.”[2] Heidemann feels that the promise of portability is highly deceptive to law students who believe that a widespread uniform exam means that once licensed, UBE attorneys will be able to transfer into other states at any time.[3] “The biggest misconception students have,” says Heidemann, “is that UBE scores can be transferred to a different UBE jurisdiction at any time. In reality, UBE scores are only good for generally two to five years, meaning one cannot transfer a score from one state to a different UBE state after their specified time period is over.”[4]

Even staunch supporters of the UBE seem to think that the UBE has not yet reached its greatest potential. UNLV Professor Joan Howarth advocates for a uniform cut score, citing that a six point score differential could effectively exclude hundreds of bar takers from the practice of law.[5] Melissa Hale, Director of Academic Success and Bar Programs at Loyola University Chicago School of Law says, “I’d love to see a more uniform process [regarding admission and transfer policies].” Hale, who sees the UBE as an improvement over predecessor exams and self-identifies as pro-UBE, wants to make sure that students understand the score transfer process and that it is “not without hurdles.”

As more and more states adopt the UBE, academic support professionals will need to stay in the know and keep students informed about the true costs and limitations of score portability. That is — until or unless a uniform cut score becomes a reality. Stay tuned, we may be closer than we think!

(Marsha Griggs)


[1] Marsha Griggs, Building a Better Bar Exam, 7 Tex. A&M L. Rev 1 (2019).

[2] Interview with Ashley Heidemann, President, JD ADVISING LLC (Mar. 25, 2019).

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Joan W. Howarth, The Case for a Uniform Cut Score, 42 J. LEGAL PROF. 69, 72 (2017).

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