Blue Ribbon Commission on the Future of the Bar Exam Commences Meetings

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By James Lanham

On September 1, 2021, the Blue Ribbon Commission on the Future of the Bar Exam held its second meeting.[Part 1, Part 2]  In 2020, the California Supreme Court and the Board of Trustees established the Blue Ribbon Commission to evaluate recommendations made by the California Attorney Practice Analysis (CAPA) Working Group, as well as other issues relating to the bar exam’s format and pass score. [see 26:1 CRLR 129–130]. The commission’s charter tasks the group of nineteen members with making four specific recommendations: (1) whether a bar exam is the correct tool to determine minimum competency for the practice of law; (2) whether the Universal Bar Exam (UBE) should be adopted in California; (3) if the UBE is recommended, whether a supplement is necessary; and (4) what revisions must be made to the California Bar Exam if the UBE is not recommended.

At its first meeting on July 6, 2021 [Part 1, Part 2], the Blue Ribbon Commission began by inviting public comment and reviewing the commission’s charter before discussing the current state of the California Bar Exam, the relationship between the exam and the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE), CAPA’s findings and recommendations, the UBE, and testing methods. Several panelists expressed concern with the National Committee of Bar Examiners’ potential elimination of the MBE and discussed how to replace it if necessary. The meeting concluded with a discussion of next steps, where several panelists felt that it was necessary to initially focus on the threshold issue of whether to have a bar exam or not in the next meeting.

The September 1, 2021, meeting focused primarily on the commission’s first task of deciding whether California should have a bar exam. The meeting opened with public comment covering the purpose of licensing exams, a proposed mission statement, an evaluation of the future UBE in contrast with a state specific exam, and alternatives to conventional exams for licensure. Several experts presented alternatives to exams such as clinical residencies, apprenticeship, and diploma licensure. An expert from the Wisconsin Board of Bar Examiners presented data from that state showing there was no difference in disciplinary actions against attorneys who passed the Wisconsin Bar Exam and those who were licensed by diploma privilege. The commission did not vote on the proposed mission statement before concluding this meeting, but members were asked to prepare their thoughts on the threshold question of whether to have a bar exam for discussion at the beginning of the next meeting.

The Blue Ribbon Commission’s next meeting is scheduled for November 4, 2021. The commission is expected to present its final report of findings and recommendations some time in 2022.

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