Saturday, June 24, 2017

Needed: A New Bar Exam

Over at the Best Practices for Legal Education blog (June 8, 2017), Ben Bratman call for a rethinking of the bar exam. He argues that the National Conference of Bar Examiners stands in the way of innovation:

Written performance testing was the last meaningful innovation in bar exam testing. In thinking about who might lead an effort toward the next one that introduces greater clinical evaluation, including possibly of oral skills, I think not of a top-down effort from the resolutely conservative NCBE. It is focused on getting as many jurisdictions as possible to adopt its Uniform Bar Exam (26 and counting as of today). Rather, I think of a bottom-up effort by individual states—perhaps with California in the lead—serving as laboratories for testing methods that could ultimately spread to other jurisdictions, thereby persuading or forcing the NCBE to join.

The biggest barrier to innovation at the state level is the NCBE’s influence, which increases with each state that adopts the UBE and thereby constrains itself to offer the conventional bar exam that the NCBE requires it to.

He concludes:

Today, 24 years after the MacCrate Report, 20 years after the advent of the MPT, and 10 years after the Carnegie Foundation Report, the legal profession needs a better bar exam.  I join Professor [Deborah Merritt’s call for a national task force on the bar exam, sponsored by AALS, the Conference of Chief Justices, the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, and maybe even the NCBE.  As Professor Merritt writes, such a task force could “study current approaches to the bar exam, develop a more realistic definition of minimum competence, and explore best practices for measuring that competence.”

You can read more here.

As I write this posting, I think about my newly-graduated students on the first floor of the building sitting through an expensive commercial bar review course viewing mostly videos. I wonder if this exercise in memorizing lots of rules and some test-taking techniques is the best way for them to prepare for their professional futures.


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