The report and recommendations of the Task Force on the New York Bar Exam, which call for a new process to test law school graduates to ensure that they are ready to practice law and serve clients effectively in New York, were adopted by NYSBA’s House of Delegates at its meeting April 4.
The task force recommendations include eliminating the New York Law Exam (NYLE) phase of the bar exam and replacing it with a more rigorous component focused on New York law that would be a prerequisite for admission to practice in New York.
“New York law has long been the gold standard in American jurisprudence,” said NYSBA President Henry M. Greenberg. “The task force recommendations outline a smart and achievable strategy for how the bar exam can be transformed to play a more effective role in ensuring that newly admitted lawyers have a comprehensive grounding in New York law.”
Since 2015, attorneys aspiring to practice in New York State have taken the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE), a standardized bar exam created by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and currently administered in 35 jurisdictions across the country. The UBE is designed to test knowledge and skills that every lawyer should have before becoming licensed to practice law and scores can be transferred to seek admission in other UBE jurisdictions.
The NYLE is a 50 question, open-book multiple choice test administered online that tests knowledge of a range of topics relating to New York law. Task force members found during their investigation overwhelming evidence that applicants to the New York bar do not take the NYLE seriously, with some students describing it as a joke.
“After almost a year of detailed study, our task force concluded that the current bar examination format fails to protect New Yorkers by not demanding that attorneys who seek to practice here demonstrate minimum competence in New York law,” said task force chair Hon. Alan Scheinkman, presiding justice of the Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department.
The task force report has garnered strong support from the legal community across the state. The New York County Lawyers Association, Nassau County Bar Association, Bronx County Bar Association, Brooklyn Bar Association, Erie County Bar Association and Onondaga County Bar Association and others voiced their support during the meeting.
The group’s report included the following recommendations:
- Eliminate the NYLE and replace it with a rigorous exam on New York law as a prerequisite to admission to the New York bar.
- Conduct an independent psychometric analysis of the grading and scaling of the UBE.
- Allow those who do not wish to practice law in New York to take only the UBE and allowing those who only wish to practice in New York to take only the Multi-state Bar Examination section of the UBE and the rigorous New York test.
- Consider a New York law Certification program that would allow people to forego the bar exam entirely. Under this program, ABA-accredited law schools inside and outside of New York would offer courses that include New York law-based content.
- Consider an experiential learning pilot program, which would allow second and third-year law students to spend time counseling clients, working with practicing attorneys and learning other practical skills so that a portfolio of work is created and assessed every semester
“Those law graduates who do not want to practice here could take only the UBE, while those who want to practice in New York must take a rigorous New York law examination and the multi-state bar examination, which was the format prior to the UBE,” said Scheinkman.
The task force was established in April 2019 with a mandate to “investigate and report on the impact of New York’s adoption of the UBE on applicants, potential employers, and the court system.” Task force members included state and local bar association leaders, law professors, solo practitioners and other invested stakeholders from across the state.
Task Force Also Issued Report With Recommendations for Rescheduling July 2020 Bar Exam
The task force was recently called to reconvene in light of the coronavirus pandemic, and issued a report recommending that New York’s postponed July bar exam should be rescheduled for a date as soon as possible around Labor Day, prior to the Jewish holidays at the end of the month.
The task force also recommended that, if circumstances make a fall bar exam impossible, existing provisions for supervised practice by law school graduates be expanded to include private sector attorneys and law firms.
In addition, the task force recommended a one-time general waiver of the Court of Appeals’ limits on distance learning credits for applicants to the New York State bar, so that students completing law school this year would not be penalized due to distance learning programs that law schools across the country have instituted as part of efforts to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.
All of these recommendations were also adopted by the House of Delegates. In the days since the report was first issued, The Court of Appeals has announced each of these recommendations have either been adopted or are being taken into consideration by Chief Judge Janet DiFiore.