Students taking a simulated multi-state bar examination in 2014 at the Jacob J. Javits Convention Center in New York City. (Barbri)
Nearly 11,000 lawyer-hopefuls are set to take next week’s New York bar exam, which will include a new twist on the traditional rite of passage.
Some 10,820 applicants on July 26 are scheduled to sit for the state’s first administration of the Uniform Bar Examination, which is being used in a growing number of states throughout the country.
Unlike past years, the first day of the exam will not consist solely of New York-specific essay and multiple choice questions. Instead, applicants will take the Multistate Essay Exam, which is worth 30 percent of applicants’ scores and contains six essay questions on generally accepted legal principles.
The first day also includes two Multistate Performance Test items designed to test practical lawyering skills, which now accounts for 20 percent of scores, up from 10 percent in previous years.
Applicants still take the Multistate Bar Exam on the second day of the test, but that portion now accounts for 50 percent of scores, up from 40 percent.
Another change from previous years is the addition of the online New York Law Course, which went live in April, and the online, 50-question New York Law Exam, which was administered in May.
Test takers must obtain a minimum score of 266 to pass the test, and applicants can use the score to gain admission to the bar in other UBE states.
New York is one of 23 states—and the District of Columbia—that have either begun administering the UBE or have announced the adoption of the test, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners. Both Connecticut and New Jersey adopted the test this year and will first administer it in February 2017.
“This portability is crucial in a legal marketplace that is increasingly mobile and requires more and more attorneys to engage in multijurisdictional practice,” wrote New York’s Advisory Committee on the Uniform Bar Examination in a report released last year recommending that the state adopt the new exam.
For the New York State Board of Bar Examiners, changing over to the new exam was “fairly easy to do,” said executive director John McAlary. The “more challenging part,” he said, was developing the online course and test.
With regard to the number of applicants expected to sit for the test this year, McAlary said that there are typically between 300 and 500 absentees each year. Last year, 10,671 applicants showed up for the July exam, 524 less than in 2014.
The continued decline in applicants reflects the fact that there are fewer law school students than in past years, McAlary said.
For students, the significant change this year was the increased importance of the Multistate Bar Exam, said Mike Sims, president of BARBRI, which provides bar exam prep for the majority of New York applicants.
“Law students, like all students, are scared of standardized tests,” Sims said. To help applicants prepare for that portion of the test, he said, the company added a three-day MBE-intensive course to its seven-week prep schedule.
Danielle Bifulci Kocal, director of academic success at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University, said in an email that Pace students prepared for this year’s exam “in many of the same ways they always have,” but said that the school increased its focus on students’ skills with multiple-choice exams, since multiple choice makes up a larger portion of the test this year.
“This makes their performance on this portion of the exam more important than ever, so we have been emphasizing incorporating intense, daily practice questions sessions into all study plans,” Bifulci Kocal said.
Stella Silverstein, a Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law graduate who is sitting for the bar next week, and who was still working toward her J.D. when it was announced that New York would adopt the Uniform Bar Examination, said that she was initially relieved that applicants were longer required to know the New York distinctions for certain topics, but that she has grown nervous as the test approaches that there may be tougher grading than in past years.
But Silverstein said that she is happy üthat she can take the test in New York and that the results can transfer back to her native New Jersey if she decides to start a family and move to a more suburban locale.
“That opens up some possibilities,” said Silverstein, who said she hopes to work in trademark law if she is admitted to the bar.