This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, Fall 2023 (Vol. 92, No. 3), pp. 15-17.

Closeup of several individuals’ hands clasped over one another, as in a team huddle. Individuals are all wearing formal business attire.”

Joanne Kane, PhD, and Lynda Cevallos, Esq.

On October 26, 2023, NCBE and the Council on Legal Education Opportunity Inc. (CLEO) celebrated five years of collaboratively assisting persons from historically underrepresented backgrounds—whether on the basis of race and ethnicity, gender identity, low-income status, first-generation student status, or geographical location—as they train for and enter the legal profession. In recognition of this milestone, we look back at the partnership’s beginnings, take pride in our progress to this point, and look forward to continued collaboration over the next several years.

Looking Back to the Partnership’s Beginnings

On October 26, 2018, NCBE President Judith A. Gundersen and NCBE’s Board of Trustees met at NCBE headquarters with CLEO representatives to formalize and sign a collaboration agreement intended to help diversify the legal profession and expand access to justice. As CLEO’s then-CEO ­Cassandra Sneed Ogden stated, “NCBE has a wealth of online information and study aids available to help students be successful in their final quest to join the legal profession. However, some students need a personal touch to coach them over the finish line. With NCBE’s generous financial support, CLEO will be able to assist scores of 1Ls, 2Ls, and 3Ls across the country to methodically prepare to conquer the bar exam.”1

NCBE’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee was scheduled to meet in Washington DC in December 2018, which allowed three local CLEO staff members—Cassandra Sneed Ogden, Bernetta Hayes, and Lynda Cevallos—to attend and provide an overview of CLEO’s work and mission to committee members and staff liaisons. CLEO staff distributed materials from a major milestone event they had hosted just a few weeks earlier; on November 15, 2018, CLEO had celebrated a half century of helping increase access to education and encourage diversification of the legal profession at their CLEO Edge Awards Gala in the same city. The materials included this quote from the Honorable Justice ­Thurgood Marshall: “None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody—a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony, or a few nuns—bent down and helped us pick up our boots.” This spirit of forging relationships with individuals who might not otherwise have direct connections to the legal profession is a hallmark of all CLEO’s programming and work, including that on bar preparation.

group photo from the 2018 visit to NCBE offices that formalized the NCBE/CLEO agreement, which is being held at the center of the group

NCBE President Judith A. Gundersen, NCBE’s 2018–2019 Board of Trustees, and NCBE Diversity Issues Committee Chair Bryan R. Williams met at NCBE headquarters with CLEO Director of Prelaw Program Operations Bernetta Hayes and CLEO Board of Directors member Malcolm L. Morris to formalize their collaboration.

Celebrating Progress

In just five short years, staff at CLEO, especially Lynda Cevallos, have grown the program from the ground up, from a tentative idea to a comprehensive program of training and supports. Training includes webinars targeting individuals at the 1L, 2L, 3L, and alumni levels that review specific content areas (e.g., Contracts, Civil Procedure); provide general strategies for preparing for and taking the bar exam; and offer individualized performance feedback on Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), Multistate Essay Examination, and Multistate Performance Test essays. In addition, 2Ls and 3Ls get weekly MBE questions in their inbox from NCBE.

In further support of Cassandra Sneed Ogden’s original vision of the collaboration, CLEO also offers more of a personal touch in the form of offering one-on-one mentoring opportunities for students who might not otherwise have individualized support. CLEO also works with consultants to develop motivational and encouraging videos to help students succeed both while still in law school and beyond.

CLEO staff and consultants partner with NCBE staff to develop, administer, and evaluate the results of pre- and post-bar surveys and interviews designed to identify the factors that contribute most directly to bar passage. So far, these studies have agreed with some previous research findings that law school GPA tends to be a particularly strong predictor of bar success. Hours worked at a job during law school and during the bar preparation period negatively affect bar passage, though not to a statistically significant degree in our relatively small study. The consistent and robust finding that law school GPA is directly related to bar passage highlights the importance of the work of CLEO and other similar organizations that support students all along the education pipeline where differences in performance by demographic group persist.2

Group photo from 2023 meeting between NCBE and CLEO

NCBE Associate Director of Testing Joanne Kane, PhD, NCBE President Judith A. Gundersen, CLEO Vice President of Academic Affairs Lynda Cevallos, CLEO Chief Executive Officer Juan “J.C.” Polanco, NCBE Board of Trustees Chair John J. McAlary

Looking Forward

In May 2023, NCBE’s Board of Trustees approved another three-year funding agreement, allowing our partnership with CLEO to continue. In addition to forging ahead with helping students from historically underrepresented groups succeed while they are still in law school, we hope this partnership will help CLEO participants succeed on whichever bar exam they take or alternative licensing pathway they might pursue.

We are particularly grateful to the assistance CLEO and CLEO participants have already offered to NCBE as we develop the NextGen bar exam. CLEO participants volunteered to take an early draft version of NextGen questions and gave direct feedback (via questions regarding their impressions of the new questions and formats), as well as indirect performance information (including response time information and information regarding their use of available reference materials, among other data). This rich material is being incorporated to help ensure the NextGen exam feels relevant to the practice of law to future examinees while fairly assessing their legal knowledge and skills. As practice materials and study aids become more widely available, we will work with CLEO to ensure the materials are clear and helpful for exam takers. In-depth post-exam interviews conducted with CLEO participants will assist NCBE in continuing to study the new exam as it rolls out to jurisdictions beginning in July 2026.

Although the partnership is aimed at the students or participants CLEO directly serves on a ­person-to-person, individualized basis, the programming already has had a ripple effect beyond CLEO participants. As NCBE staff were developing their Bar Exam Study Basics video, they pulled ideas and suggestions from some of the webinars and videos CLEO had developed.3 The experiences of and feedback from CLEO participants are helping ensure the NextGen exam is fair for all exam takers.

As our collaboration continues over the next three years, we hope to see even greater reach of the program both directly—by helping ever-greater numbers of students “pick up their boots”—and indirectly—by taking the best and most scalable parts of the programming and sharing it with all preparing to take a bar exam.

Notes

  1. NCBE and CLEO Announce New Collaboration,” 87(4) The Bar Examiner, 38 (Winter 2018–2019). (Go back)
  2. Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE), “LSSSE Annual Results 2019: The Cost of Women’s Success (Part 2),” available at https://lssse.indiana.edu/tag/raceethnicity/page/2/#:~:text=To%20start%2C%207.3%25%20of%20Asian,women%20are%20nevertheless%20outperforming%20men. (Go back)
  3. NCBE’s Bar Exam Study Basics Video provides evidence-based advice about helpful study habits to help students prepare for the bar exam. See https://www.ncbex.org/study-aids. (Go back)
Portrait photo of Joanne Kane, PhD

Joanne Kane, PhD, is the ­Associate ­Director of ­Psychometrics for the National ­Conference of Bar Examiners.

Portrait photo of Lynda Cevallos, EsqLynda Cevallos, Esq., is the Vice President of ­Academic Affairs at the Council on Legal Education Opportunity Inc.

READ MORE

For more about the NCBE/CLEO Bar Passage Program, see these Bar Examiner articles:

For more about CLEO, visit cleoinc.org/about/.
For more about the NextGen bar exam, visit nextgenbarexam.ncbex.org/.

Contact us to request a pdf file of the original article as it appeared in the print edition.

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