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The New York state bar examination, long and loudly criticized for obliging hopeful law school graduates to memorize long tracts of black letter law, is now officially challenged to take a new tack in evaluating competency. Late last month, a joint committee of the New York State Bar Association and the Association of the Bar of the City of New York formally filed a proposed experimental pilot program for a “Public Service Alternative Bar Examination” with the Board of Law Examiners in Albany, as well as the Court of Appeals. Under the alternative model, selected applicants for bar admission would do public service work for three months within the New York State Unified Court System, subject to supervision and evaluation of court personnel. This, in addition to 150 subsequent hours of pro bono work in the courts, would substitute for the rote memory element of the standard bar exam, which would not be abolished altogether. Despite the alternative program’s support from New York’s two principal bar associations — not to mention many attorneys who remember cramming for weeks in preparation for the standard exam — Nancy O. Carpenter, executive director of the New York State Board of Law Examiners in Albany, discouraged thoughts of official response any time soon. “It’s a multi-stage process, and probably a long one,” said Carpenter. “The court would want to receive a lot of public comment. And already, the court’s plate is pretty full, what with the proposal to raise our scoring standard.” Nevertheless, champions of the alternative exam remain optimistic. “We’re hopeful,” said Professor Lawrence Grosberg of New York Law School, chair of the City Bar’s Committee on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar. “We’ve met with some members of the law board, and they’ve indicated an openness.” The alternative exam is largely the brainchild of Kristin Booth Glen, dean of the City University of New York School of Law and a former state supreme court justice. In an article published in the October edition of the Columbia Law Review outlining her idea, Dean Glen wrote, “Hardly anyone likes the [standard] bar examination.” In addition to the mechanics of substituting public service and pro bono for memorization, Dean Glen’s article also spoke of the financial divide among bar exam takers — those with the time and money required for preparation versus poor students, and those who must work full-time jobs. “I am extremely gratified that these recommendations are going to come out,” said Dean Glen. “I think there’s a willingness now to say there’s a better way.”

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