Thursday, April 2, 2020
I sometimes wonder which is a bigger issue when it comes to attorney malpractice. Ethical problems or doctrinal issues?
As best I can tell, there are few disciplinary actions based on the elements of a negligence claim or the standard for a preliminary injunction or the elements of a common law marriage. Rather, it seems like most disciplinary actions are based on failing to abide by the rules of professional conduct, often due to time-management issues or substance abuse problems or client fund issues, etc. - all significant concerns that greatly impact the public good. Nevertheless, most states test ethical rules by using a one-day computer-based multiple-choice test -- the MPRE.
Consequently, if a multiple-choice exam suffices to assess ethical rules, why not use a mutiple-choice exam for assessing substantive doctrinal law too, especially in light of the concerns about administering a bar exam this summer due to the COVID-19 pandemic?
So here goes a possible syllogism:
The issue is whether bar examiners ought to consider using a one-day computer-based multiple-choice exam to assess doctrinal legal knowledge and application.
Like situations can be treated alike.
Here, with respect to the bar exam, assessing knowledge about ethical rules for professional competency, which is assessed by most states using a one-day online multiple-choice exam, involves the same sorts of problem-solving analytical skills as assessing knowledge about substantive doctrinal laws.
Therefore, bar regulators ought to consider using a one-day online multiple-choice MBE exam, delivered similar to the computer-based MPRE, to substitute for the current two-day in-person exam.
If my syllogism holds true, then there's no logical reason why states should delay the bar exam this summer because bar examiners can instead reformat the exam as a multiple-choice MBE exam to determine knowledge and application of substantive doctrinal law.
And, there's more great news. There's no reason why bar examiners can't permit law students to take the MBE prior to graduation just like the MPRE...so that law graduates are really practice-ready...at graduation. Wouldn't that be super!
And, as illustrated by the movement of the MPRE to an online testing format, bar examiners also have the expertise to convert the MBE from a paper & pencil exam to a computer-based exam.
Finally, although there are exam security issues raised with using online testing, particularly because online testing for this summer would most likely have to take place under "shelter in place conditions," those concerns can be mitigated by bar examiners as regulators make character and fitness decisions.
In short, it's time to move to online multiple-choice testing.
In my opinion, failing to act now, in the midst of this ongoing crisis, not only harms bar applicants because of the delays that might befall them due to COVID-19, but also fails to protect the public, who disparately need (and will need) legal expertise, now more than ever, as the U.S navigates through this world-wide crisis. Just food for thought!
P.S. Note: The biggest issue with respect to any licensure exam, it seems to me, is whether it actually assess what it purports to assess, minimal competency to practice law. As best I can tell, most states evaluate written exam answers - not for minimum competency - but rather based on a process of rank-ordering exam answers. And, with respect to multiple-choice exams, I suspect that much of the success lies not so much with assessing competency but with developing test-taking skills and the knowledge of U.S. legal culture. But, there seems no inclination to abandon the bar exam regiment. Hence, I suggest retooling the bar exam as a one-day online comptuter-tested MBE exam available for law students to take after their first-year of legal studies.