The bar exam is about to get a nationwide overhaul. The National Conference of Bar Examiners, or NCBE, which creates and administers the uniform bar exam, plans to roll out a revamped version of the bar exam, which it calls the “NextGen” exam, in 2026. After attending the NCBE’s annual meeting this month, I have serious concerns about how this test will affect law students, law schools and the legal profession.
The proposed NextGen exam will be shorter than the current two-day evaluation, test fewer areas of law, and probe each subject less deeply. Certain topics won’t be tested at all. The exam will also feature new client-interaction exercises, though it’s unclear what this feature will look like and how the NCBE will ensure it is graded objectively.
Some of these changes may prove salutary. Working with clients, for example, is an essential feature of any law practice. But the new exam also seems far less rigorous and could hamper the ability of states to determine who should be admitted to practice law. The results could be ruinous. States can’t maintain functional court systems unless clients and judges can trust the basic competency and integrity of attorneys admitted to the bar.
The proposed exam will also eliminate family law and trusts and estates as tested subjects. Tens of millions of Americans live in rural areas and small towns, where legal needs typically revolve around family law (marriage, divorce, custody and adoption) and probate matters (estate administration, guardianships and conservatorships). In many rural areas, residents’ access to justice depends on the ability of only a handful of practicing attorneys. These residents need to know that new lawyers have the foundational knowledge to serve their needs or at least the threshold understanding necessary to refer them elsewhere. If these areas of legal practice are eliminated from the exam, it will be difficult to replenish the requisite knowledge in our lawyer ranks.
But perhaps the biggest concern is the NCBE’s use of the NextGen exam to advance its “diversity, fairness and inclusion” agenda. Two of the organization’s stated aims are to “work toward greater equity” by “eliminat[ing] any aspects of our exams that could contribute to performance disparities” and to “promote greater diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.” The NCBE reinforces this message by touting its “organization-wide efforts to ensure that diversity, fairness, and inclusion pervade its test products and services.”
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Author: Ruth King
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