Few academic milestones have achieved the same level of deserved notoriety as the bar exam. If graduating law school is a difficult achievement, passing the bar exam is a veritable stress caldron—one that distinguishes a licensed lawyer from a well-educated (and debt-riddled) law school grad.
All that pressure and stress is supposed to be for a reason. It’s the way it is because it has to be. Isn’t it? Because passing the bar exam is supposed to ensure enough competence in the law to be able to practice the law. Except, when the bar exam is itself examined, it doesn’t always stand up to scrutiny.
“When it comes to assessing lawyer competence, we saw again and again and again in our research conclusive evidence that the existing bar exam is far from a foolproof or even reliable measure of competence; and, to the detriment of both candidates and the profession, it replicates and perpetuates bias,” Seattle University School of Law Dean Anthony E. Varona says in the latest issue of Washington State Bar News.
Varona is one of a handful of experts commissioned by the Washington Supreme Court to form the Washington Bar Licensure Task Force. The Task Force came about in late 2020 in response to both praise and condemnation from Washington’s legal community after the Supreme Court “met extraordinary world circumstances with an extraordinary decision—to grant one-time diploma privilege to some bar applicants, in consideration of the dangers and challenges of administering a bar exam during a global pandemic and momentous civil unrest,” according to this issue’s cover story. Three years after its formation, the Task Force has released its study, including research, findings, and recommendations.
This month’s Bar News, is largely dedicated to the Task Force’s findings, as well as a range of opinions about the past, present, and future of the bar exam. We have a Q&A with Varona and Justice Raquel Montoya-Lewis, who chaired the task force; thoughts on bar exam alternatives and the character and fitness process from two WSBA governors who served on the task force, Jordan Couch and Brent Williams-Ruth; and details on the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ NextGen Bar Exam.
Of course, it’s not all bar exam news in this issue. You can also find an analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in 303 Creative v. Elenis, a Q&A with the deans of Washington’s three law schools about the state of the state’s legal profession, an ethical analysis of chatbots in the practice of law, and much more.