The possibility of a uniform bar exam that would help standardize attorney licensing state-to-state is inching closer to becoming a reality.
Currently, 19 states are positioned to implement the uniform bar exam, or UBE as it is called. The exam, designed to create a consistent competency measure for admission to practice, would be a three-component test, all with the same questions, administered in each jurisdiction.
Although many states historically have held onto their testing autonomy by developing some of their own exam questions and by using their own pass scores, legal professionals say that a single exam — such as those utilized for physicians, architects and accountants — is an increasing likelihood for lawyers.
“Multijurisdictional practice is just a way of life now,” said Rebecca Thiem, a partner at Zuger Kirmis & Smith in Bismarck, N.D.
Thiem is president of the North Dakota State Board of Law Examiners. She also is a trustee with the National Conference of Bar Examiners, which devises several tests, including the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), which some jurisdictions already use to admit law graduates to practice.
The uniform bar exam would consist of three components, all developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners: the MBE; the Multistate Performance Test; and the Multistate Essay Examination. The uniform test score would include performance on these components only and would not incorporate a state law portion.
Each state would continue to do its own grading and, at least initially, each state could set its own minimum pass score. Individual states would continue to conduct their own character and fitness screening for bar admission.
The 19 jurisdictions that could most readily begin using the uniform exam already include the three components developed by the National Conference on their bar exams. Illinois, Missouri and Colorado are among those states.
Proponents of a uniform bar exam assert that it would relieve states of the costs of developing their own tests and could provide higher-quality questions than on state-developed tests. They also say that a uniform exam would help ensure that attorneys from different parts of the country had the same level of competency.
“We’re just relying on a test that another state has given without knowing the content of that exam,” Thiem said. “We’re assuming everything is great.”
A uniform test is something that New York would consider, said Diane Bosse, chairwoman of the New York State Board of Law Examiners.
But she said several questions remain, including how to include a state law component and how long the uniform exam score would remain valid.
She added that she favors a “portable score” that a uniform test would provide, particularly because it would give law graduates more mobility in the job market.