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Uniform Bar Exam

The National Jurist posed the question “What if there were only one bar exam?” in its February 2013 issue. It appears that five states will switch to the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) this July 2013.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) created the UBE with the idea that it would make it easier for bar exam takers to practice in different states when they are not sure of where to work. The exam has been already been adopted by 13 states: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.

The UBE jurisdictions have shared interests on tested subjects, and a pact to give credit to examination scores produced by test takers in participating jurisdictions. For the jurisdictions that administer the UBE, there are policies to grade the exam similarly.

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The UBE is not about reciprocal admission, where one state allows a person admitted to practice in another state to practice. The UBE is about score portability. UBE jurisdictions must accept scores from other UBE states.

Presently, there are many bar exam tutors and preparation services that prepare law students to pass bar exams of a particular jurisdiction. These bar exam providers will be in for a rude awakening when jurisdictions slowly switch to the UBE. Some tutors may think they have created easy money by creating outlines, flashcards, and templates to reuse exam after exam, but these test preparation materials are based on the laws of specific states. These tutors may go out of business if they do not have study aids for students to pass the UBE when a state decides to switch over.

Besides Montana, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and Nebraska moving over to the UBE this summer 2013, some think more states will do the transition in the near future.

The UBE is given over two days, and includes essays, performance test, and multiple choice sections. The multiple choice section is weighted 50%, the essays portion is worth 30%, and the performance test portion is worth 20%.

Some academics criticize the UBE for not allowing examiners to test on specific state laws. In April 2010, Missouri was the first jurisdiction to adopt the UBE. The Missouri Board of Law Examiners developed a local law component to test applicants on Missouri-specific law as part of its admission requirements. It appears that if a state creates a local law component that highlights distinctions of local law that practitioners should know, states who adopt the UBE can help bar candidates obtain more flexibility in the job market, and test local laws at the same time.

Uniform Bar Exam by

  • Jim Rigos

    Nice article but not only students gain from the UBE adoption, although they certainly are one big beneficiary.

    Law firms that practice in federal law subjects or have a presence in more than one state and/or electronically need their expert to be able to serve their clients no matter in which state they are located. They support UBE because it serves the public interest.

    Law schools that export their graduates (new graduates exceed the local state new in-state openings) will find their law school seems more attractive to students. In a day when the pool of new applicants is decreasing a state bar that does not support their own law schools’ enrollment seems terribly behind the times.

    The local bar usually puts on boot camps for new members focusing on local law. The Bar’s CLE probably does a better job that the bar exam in teaching the local matters.

    The above three beneficiary groups gain from UBE adoption. What non-frivolous arguments against the UBE remain?

    The accountants went to a uniform exam many years ago. They call it the “Uniform CPA exam.” Time to move the entrance exam for our legal profession into the 21st century.

    Jim Rigos

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