Daily Archives: January 4, 2011

Trends pointing towards a uniform bar exam?

Remember taking the bar? Remember how much fun it was? Now, imagine taking it again…in a different jurisdiction.

Attorneys do it every day, but it is an experience that no attorney looks forward to with any kind of happy anticipation. Well, at least not any that I know. It means two (or three, in some jurisdictions) grueling days of exams testing the applicant’s knowledge of the law. Applicants are tested on a variety of topics, from torts to contracts, civil procedure and bankruptcy, and so on.

Unlike other professions, such as medicine which has a national licensing procedure, the procedure for getting licensed as an attorney is specific to each jurisdiction. The graduating law student without a job must guess where they will land a job or will have the best opportunities, take the bar, and hope for the best. Once you’ve taken the bar, you’re locked. It’s expensive, it’s time consuming, and it only happens twice a year.


Fortunately, there is a move afoot to standardize tests across the country to allow attorneys to transfer between jurisdictions without completely retaking the bar. According to the ABA Journal:

Earlier this year, Missouri and North Dakota became the first two states to adopt the uniform bar exam, which was developed by the national conference with input from the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar and others in the field. Both states will offer the UBE starting in February 2011.

That’s right. With a uniform bar exam (UBE), it would be far easier for states to allow attorneys to transfer between jurisdictions without retaking the entire exam. Because the attorney had already taken the same bar in another state, he would need only to qualify in areas of the law that were unique to the particular jurisdiction into which he was moving.

The uniform bar exam has received the endorsement of the Conference of Chief Justices and the ABA’s Council of Legal Education section. They urged bar admission authorities “in each state and territory to consider participating in the development and implementation of a uniform bar examination.”

Source: National Conference of Bar Examiners


First of all, many states already have pieces of the UBE in place. And states would not give up their control over the test.

As conceived by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the UBE is made up of three separate tests that would be administered over a two-day period: the multistate bar exam, which already is used by the District of Columbia and 48 states; the multistate essay exam, which is used by 23 states and the district; and the multistate performance test, in use in 31 states and D.C. Eighteen of those jurisdictions already use all three of those tests.

Under a uniform bar exam, states would continue to play a prominent role in determining who will be admitted to practice by setting requirements to take the bar exam, setting the scores necessary to pass, conducting character and fitness reviews of candidates, and deciding whether to continue to require candidates to be tested on local law.

Those testing options range from adding a segment to the UBE that focuses specifically on the law of the jurisdiction, to the equivalent of a mandatory continuing legal education program for newly admitted lawyers, or to what some call the “driver’s license” approach, in which candidates may continue taking a short test on the basics of local law until they pass.

Whether the UBE is implemented nationwide may only be a matter of time, but the trend, according to the certainly appears to be moving that direction. And when the UBE becomes standard, moving to a new jurisdiction will not be as difficult for an attorney as it has been in the past.

(h/t to the ABA Journal)