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SAN DIEGO — Some of the mystery surrounding that rite of passage that every lawyer must endure to become admitted to the bar was uncovered at the Association of American Law Schools annual meeting on Thursday in San Diego. A panel of bar exam professionals presented “Unwrapping the Shroud of Secrecy: What Law Professors Can Learn from Bar Examiners” and revealed some juicy insight about that most dreaded event for law school graduates. The panel was one of dozens of presentations that are part of the five-day conference of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), the organization made up of about 160 of the country’s law schools. Of note concerning the bar exam is the real possibility that future test-takers will need to add one more topic to their list of subjects that they must already study to prepare for the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). The MBE is administered in 53 jurisdictions. The number of correct answers required to pass the exam varies among those jurisdictions. The National Conference of Bar Examiners is considering including questions about civil procedure to the 200-multiple choice test, in addition to questions on torts, criminal law, contracts, real property, evidence and constitutional law. “The MBE may be going to a seventh topic,” said Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE). The NCBE develops the MBE, the essay questions and the performance tests that most states present on their bar exams. Performance tests are those that present examinees with a fact pattern a file of documents and requires them to demonstrate fundamental lawyering skills. Moeser said that her organization has met with bar exam professionals in other states to address the issue of adding another topic on the multiple choice test. A show-of-hands survey taken from those attending Thursday’s meeting indicated that most favored adding the subject to the MBE. Ironically, Moeser, a licensed attorney, revealed to the audience consisting mainly of law professors that she has never taken a bar exam. An attorney in Wisconsin, Moeser was admitted by diploma. Wisconsin is the only state that allows law graduates from both its schools to become licensed without taking a bar exam. “It’s always better to get it out on the table,” said Moeser, with a laugh. “I’m a diploma admittee. I married one. I gave birth to one.” Also participating in Thursday’s discussion was Hulett “Bucky” Askew, the consultant on legal education of the American Bar Association Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Lawrence Hill, a member of the Illinois Board of Admissions to the Bar, and Karen Engro, chairman of the Pennsylvania Board of Law Examiners, also participated in the panel. Another hot topic of discussion was the growing possibility of a uniform bar examination — one test administered in all jurisdictions. Although 49 states use the NCBE’s multiple choice test, many write their own state law portions and practical skills components of their exams. “This is an idea whose time has come,” Askew said, adding that the ABA section on legal education is working with the state chief justices to help formulate a plan to implement a uniform test. “We have great confidence that this will move forward,” he said. The panelists provided a glimpse into how test questions are prepared and graded. For example, Hill, from Pennsylvania, said that his state has two “graders” per essay question to evaluate the roughly 3,000 answers per question that his state gets from the summer exam. During the winter exam, the graders split about 850 answers. He said that despite the rumors, essay answers are evaluated closely. Engro shared some of the insight she’s gained in Pennsylvania. First, for whatever reasons, test-takers who write their answers using computers generally perform better than those who hand write their responses. She also said that individuals who are granted extra time because of disabilities or other challenges more often than not don’t use it. Each of the panelists expressed a goal of making bar examinations more closely reflect the current practice of law. In Engro’s case, she’d like to see Pennsylvania move toward a test that is all performance based. “I disagree on a national standard,” she said. “If I were queen of the world, I would have it be focused on a practical exam.”

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