Lawyer Feedback Used to Gauge Relevance of National Bar Exam, Make Updates

Feedback concept graphic

The most ubiquitous measurement of whether a J.D. meets the minimum competence to practice law is potentially undergoing one of its biggest revisions in recent memory, and WSBA members have an opportunity to help reshape the bar exam.

As one component of a three-year study to ensure the bar exam remains valid in assessing practical abilities to practice law, the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) has launched a national survey of lawyers to collect data about the knowledge and skills new lawyers will need to practice law. Facing criticisms that the NCBE’s standardized, multistate bar exams don’t necessarily test for the skills a new lawyer actually needs, the organization formed a Testing Task Force to look at whether and how to reshape the exam to test for the most relevant skills and knowledge lawyers need in the real world. In effect, everything is on the table when it comes to revising the exam.

There is still time for interested WSBA members to have their voice heard and help shape the future of the bar exam. The NCBE’s Practice Analysis Survey opened on Aug. 1 for lawyers to share their insights, but it will close on Sept. 30.

The good news is that, as of the last count, about 8,000 lawyers nationwide had completed the survey. The bad news, only 43 were from Washington—about one-half of 1 percent of the total. Washington’s legal community is the 15th largest in the country, according to data published by the ABA Legal Professional Statistics, so the number of respondents from our state should have been about four times as high, proportionately speaking.

The exam itself takes about 20 minutes to complete and, by design, is looking to ferret out subject matter that most practicing lawyers don’t need to know. The survey assigns a random subject area of law to each participant, and gauges how much they actually need to know about that area to be a competent lawyer. So if experienced lawyers respond that they have little to no knowledge in certain areas of law, the Testing Task Force could determine those areas don’t need to be in the bar exam.

A study of this size will likely not come around again for some time, and the results will dictate the content and structure of the bar exam for years to come. Take the survey online through the Practice Analysis Survey page, and learn more about the background, including research and milestones, at the Testing Task Force homepage.