This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, Spring 2022 (Vol. 91, No. 1), pp. 3–4.By Judith A. Gundersen

Judith A. GundersenMilestones, Memories, and Momentum

Sue Richards and I wrote our columns independently, but we both mark the confirmation of Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson as a milestone worth celebrating.

I had the chance to watch on TV some of the Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Jackson just as I started to write this column. Weeks later, as I came back to finish my column, Judge Jackson is now Justice Jackson, the 116th associate justice on the Supreme Court of the United States, but the first Black woman and just the sixth woman to serve on the high court in 232 years. I hope all of us in bar admissions—as champions of the rule of law and of ensuring a competent, ethical, and diverse profession—laud this epic milestone. I also hope that in my lifetime these kinds of “firsts”—for all people of historically underrepresented groups—while still celebrated, will become commonplace. Associate Justice Jackson will bring a different perspective that has not heretofore been represented on the high court. Like so many of us, I am impressed by her legal and judicial experience, as well as the poise she exhibited under the intense pressure of the confirmation process.

Momentum and Transitions at NCBE

Closer to home, we are also celebrating many milestones at NCBE—especially related to the next generation of the bar exam. We have just posted the first draft of the Content Scope Outlines and are poring over the hundreds of comments stakeholders have submitted in response. On behalf of all of us at NCBE working on this project, we thank you for taking the time to share your views and your expertise. Next steps are outlined in the Quarterly Update.

Also on that front, we are gaining a lot of momentum as actual implementation—test design, development, pilot testing, and internal systems development—is in full swing. We’ve hired several new staff members who bring skill sets that allow this project to thrive—even as we are about to say goodbye to one of our true leaders and innovators, Kellie Early, NCBE’s Chief Strategy Officer. Kellie is retiring in early June after a long career in bar admissions in Missouri and at NCBE.

Kellie was instrumental in envisioning and implementing some of NCBE’s most visible and far-­reaching initiatives: creating the NCBE Number (the unique identifier now used by all jurisdictions in lieu of a Social Security number for MBE answer sheets, scores, and other admission-related purposes), bringing MPRE accommodations in-house, shepherding the growth of the UBE, and of course, leading the NextGen bar exam project. I know many of you have worked with Kellie and consider her a friend, as do I. My (selfish) sadness at her retirement is tempered by my knowing she is really looking forward to it after a career dedicated to admissions. If she brings the same kind of devotion and energy to retirement as she has brought to everything she has done at NCBE, she will indeed be very busy (and her yard and her golf game will be likely beneficiaries)!

As hard as it will be to lose Kellie, we are all very excited that Marilyn Wellington, the executive director of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners, will be joining the NCBE team. Many of you also know Marilyn, who has served in leadership positions on the Council of Bar Admission Administrators and who has also been an NCBE Board of Trustees member. She will bring a wealth of experience in admissions, the character and fitness process, and bar exam administration. A focus of Marilyn’s work will be leading the NextGen bar exam team and working with our staff to continue the strategic planning that Kellie has overseen.

We are confident that Marilyn will help lead NCBE with clarity, decisiveness, and creativity, just as Kellie did. I feel very lucky to have been able to work with both of them and all NCBE staff, who have worked so hard during the pandemic to continue to ensure that candidates have the opportunity to become licensed.

February 2022 Bar Exam

The February bar exam (which was administered in person following both in-person and remote administrations in February and July 2021) is in the rearview mirror, as is the March MPRE. In general, scores are down in most jurisdictions from February 2021, and that means lower passing rates. MPRE scores are also down from March 2021. Both the MBE and MPRE means are on par with those of February/March 2020.

February bar exam examinee statistics are always a bit unpredictable in that the number of examinees are much smaller, which is attributable at least in part to the UBE, meaning that fewer and fewer graduates need to take multiple bar exams. (See this issue’s Testing Column, which addresses characteristics of the February examinee pool.) The percentage of likely repeat test takers for the February 2022 exam was in line with prior administrations—about 68%. And, because of the UBE, those repeaters were mostly examinees who likely did not pass on their previous attempts on the bar exam. For more information about the February results, please see our news release at ncbex.org/news/february-2022-mbe/. Our staff are currently preparing for the July exam, which will also be held in person.

Building on NCBE’s 90 Years

As you know, NCBE just commemorated its 90th anniversary in the past two issues of the Bar Examiner. Writers shared memories of NCBE along the way, including the contributions of past NCBE volunteer leaders. Though NCBE has changed and innovated through the decades, we continue to be guided by these enduring values: excellence, fairness, integrity, and service. And like any organization devoted to serving a living, breathing profession like the law, NCBE has embraced change to serve our stakeholders. To the volunteers and staff who did so much to shape this organization, we thank you for the vision, leadership, inclusivity, and foresight to allow us to continue to serve in challenging times.

We are grateful to have been able to connect with so many of you at our Annual Bar Admissions Conference at the end of April in New Orleans. NCBE is proud to again be able to sponsor and foster attendance by covering expenses for three representatives from every jurisdiction. It is an example of our outreach efforts in the legal admissions community. I offer a sincere thank-you to our speakers and moderators, the Education Committee, and our amazing staff for making this a valuable conference for all who work in bar admissions. We look forward to many more opportunities to reconnect in 2022 and beyond with other educational events, so stay tuned.

Wishing you all the best for this spring and summer.  

Until the next issue,

Judy

Judith A. Gundersen

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