The Multistate Bar Exam is getting its first major update in nearly four decades.
Starting in 2015, civil procedure will be added to the 200-question, multiple-choice exam that almost all aspiring lawyers must take. (Louisiana is the only state that does not use the MBE).
That means the MBE will grow from testing six core legal subjects to seven.
"Civil procedure really is a fundamental, lynchpin subject for lawyers," said Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners. "It’s pretty noncontroversial change."
Professors who teach civil procedure consider it a welcome change.
"I’ve always thought it was a noticeable and odd omission," said Linda Sandstrom Simard, who teaches civil procedure at Suffolk University Law School and chairs the civil procedure section of the Association of American Law Schools. "It’s the only first-year class that’s left off the list."
The MBE debuted in 1972 with five core subjects: contracts, criminal law and procedure, evidence, real property, and torts. Constitutional law was added a year later. Civil procedure is sometimes included in the essay portion of the exam, either in the Multistate Essay Examination or on essay sections prepared individually by state bar examiners, Moeser noted. In other words, most test takers already study civil procedure on the chance it might come up on the essays, she said, but now its inclusion will be a certainty.
Several years ago, the National Conference of Bar Examiners began surveying legal educators and other experts on the advisability of including civil procedure as a regular feature. The experts also began drafting possible civil procedure test questions.
"They concluded that it was doable and that it was probably a good idea," Moeser said.
The National Conference of Bar Examiners had already made it clear to bar-watchers that civil procedure eventually would be included in the MBE, but the timing was not made public until late February, when law deans received a memo announcing the February 2015 implementation date. The memo urged the deans to inform faculty and staff who teach civil procedure or are involved in academic support or career services of the change.
To accommodate the civil procedure questions, the number of questions in each of the existing six areas will be trimmed.
The change might not go over so well with some bar takers, said Christopher Fromm, director of bar review programs, Kaplan Bar Review.
"We know, from what students tell us, that civil procedure tends to be one of their most challenging areas of study," Fromm said. "Adding a section to the MBE in an area of study that students have traditionally found difficult will make the exam more challenging overall."
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