My takeaway from the executive summary is that racial disparity exists with UBE results, but they existed before the UBE, so NCBE is not concerned.
We must do better than this.
The legal profession is already the least diverse profession in the country. We need to do better than an exam that we know is racist, written and administered by an organization that thinks that’s ok.
Earlier this month, Law.com interviewed Judith Gundersen, President of the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). In the last paragraph President Gundersen made some news that all bar support teachers should pay attention to.
What do you think the bar exam will look like in five years?
It’s hard to predict, but I think we might be looking at a different delivery mechanism. I think we might eventually be moving away from the Scantron sheet and bubbling in answers. There aren’t that many exams now that use paper in pencil.
President Gundersen reiterated this statement that the NCBE is focusing on how the bar exam should be delivered in the President’s Page of the September 2017 edition of the Bar Examiner. As bar support teachers, many of us spend a lot of time teaching students how to actively engage with bar exam questions on paper – to circle, underline, draw diagrams and flow charts, and make notes of legal issues that pop into their heads as they read through the question.
As I’ve discussed before, people read differently on a screen and on paper. That means that we have to start rethinking how we teach our students to engage with the material in front of them. Even if they can highlight and make notes on a question on the computer, they may want to draw diagrams on paper or jot down a quick outline for themselves. Looking down a piece of paper and up at a computer screen will take time.
This announcement also raises many questions about how the exam will be delivered if the bar does move to a completely computerized format. If the essays move online as well, will applicants be able to do a split screen and see both the question and their answer simultaneously? Are applicants going to be expected to read a whole packet of MPT materials and go back and forth between the documents on the same small computer screen where they will be typing their answer?
If the bar examiners are going online in five years, that means we only have one year until the first group of part-time 1Ls who will be facing a computerized test comes through our doors. It’s time to put our heads together to figure out best practices for teaching them how to read deeply, actively, and critically on a computer screen.
I hope that if the NCBE does make a shift in delivery mechanisms, it does so with enough lead time that students can practice taking exams with the questions on the computer screen as early as their first semester.
Over at the Legal Skills Prof Blog (a blog that I read daily, and very much appreciate), there is a post that focuses on the incredible pressure that law graduates feel to pass the bar on the first time. The post highlights a quote from an article on Above the Law about retaking the bar.
I’m grateful that the post acknowledges the outsized pressure that law school graduates feel to pass the bar on the first try. I have often heard people speak as though their careers and lives will be over if they don’t pass the bar the first time. That isn’t true, of course, but the pressure is very real.
However, the author of the post points to law school admissions as the solution – simply stop admitting people who are unlikely to pass the bar. That analysis shifts the focus to the wrong place. Yes, law schools have a responsibility not to take money and 3-4 years from people who are unlikely to succeed in law school and on the bar exam. And, yes, law schools have a responsibility to give their students the tools they need to succeed on the bar exam.
But, it’s not law school admissions that has created the overwhelming pressure to pass the bar on the first try. The fact that first time bar passage and employment stats are seen as the only metrics of whether a law school is worthy of existence is the problem. U.S. News, law journals, and other media outlets only focus on a school’s first time bar pass rate, as if passing the bar on the second try means you shouldn’t have been admitted to law school in the first place. That hurts our students and alums. Even the ABA is coming around to recognizing that passage rates of repeat takers matters.
We all know the stories of famous people who took the bar more than once (JFK Jr., Michelle Obama, and Hillary Clinton to name a few.) We need to start normalizing retaking the bar. Often my graduates who need to retake the bar are shocked to find out that some of the people working in their law firms and some of their faculty members didn’t pass the bar on the first try. But they only find that out after they have failed the bar and had to “come out” to those around them. We all seem to buy in to the notion that first time pass rates are all that matters. That idea is harmful to so many of our recent graduates.
Of course, we should always strive to help our students pass the bar on the first try. But, it is only through destigmatizing taking the bar more than once that we will begin to make a dent in the enormous pressure we put on recent graduates to pass the bar on the first time. That pressure itself can lead to tremendous anxiety, which gets in the way of achieving a passing score. Passing the bar on the first try is as much a psychological feat as it is an academic one.
We owe it to our students and recent graduates to do better. We also owe it to their future clients to care about the mental health of members of our profession.