This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, Summer/Fall 2021 (Vol. 90, Nos. 2–3), pp. 5–7.By Judith A. Gundersen

Judith A. Gundersen

NCBE Milestones and New Beginnings

This year marks NCBE’s 90th anniversary. As I reflect on this milestone, I think that the people who founded the organization back in 1931 would be amazed at how the organization and our network of volunteers have grown and how much more of the test development, operations, and psychometric work NCBE has taken on over the decades, especially in the past 20 years.

But the foundation of our work is the same: service to the bar admissions community to help ensure uniformity among jurisdictions in admissions processes and assessment of competence for newly licensed lawyers. I hope you enjoy reading this issue, which highlights milestones along our journey and reflections from some of our volunteer leaders.

July 2021 Bar Exam

As I write this, jurisdictions are beginning to release their July bar exam scores. (For percentage pass rates as reported by each jurisdiction following release of their exam results, see ncbex.org/statistics-and-research/bar-exam-results/.) The July exam was the second full bar exam administered bimodally, in person in 24 jurisdictions and remotely in 29 jurisdictions.

Examinees always deserve a smooth administration, and for some examinees, this unfortunately did not happen. For these examinees, problems with the remote testing software provided by ExamSoft led to testing disruptions. The remote exam is delivered offline via examinee laptops, using a secure test delivery and monitoring platform; it was this software that led to technical issues on the exam.

ExamSoft has issued an apology to examinees and jurisdictions for these technical problems. ExamSoft leadership has assured NCBE that they have identified the problem and, should the public health situation require remote testing in the future, will ensure that it does not reoccur.

Working with NCBE and ExamSoft, jurisdictions have gathered information on the effects of the software disruption. NCBE continues to provide measurement support to the jurisdictions as they deem it appropriate.

International MPRE

The first-ever international Multi­state Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) took place in August. The two MPRE administrations—­domestic and international—made for a busy August for our candidate services staff, our Test Operations Department, and our assessment and research staff. Like the remote exam option NCBE offered for the past three administrations, the international MPRE option was in response to the COVID crisis, which prevented many would-be MPRE examinees from traveling to the United States to take the exam. Ultimately, close to 1,000 people took the MPRE abroad in 21 countries. Scores for both the domestic and international MPRE examinees were released at the same time.

The February 2022 In-Person Exam

As the Delta variant surges in some parts of the country, we are all bracing for the possibility of continued disruption to our work and home lives. NCBE announced in early June that the bar exam would be offered for in-person administration only in February 2022. Over the past 18 months, over two dozen jurisdictions have administered exams in person with no reported incidence of COVID transmission. We’ve also seen Courts and law schools resume hybrid or in-person operations and classes. So we are planning to proceed with offering exam materials for in-­person testing, but should a jurisdiction be prohibited from offering an in-person administration because of a state or local mandate, NCBE will work with that jurisdiction to explore possibilities.

Obviously, we at NCBE are closely monitoring the evolving situation. NCBE is committed to serving Courts and admissions authorities by offering high-quality, high stakes testing services. The remote exam raises concerns about examinee equity and accessibility, as well as test uniformity and security, as it involves tens of thousands of “exam sites” rather than a few dozen, with varying testing environments that may not provide the same opportunity to take a two-day exam without interruption or disruption.

The Next Generation of the Bar Exam

Our work on the next generation of the bar exam is proceeding on pace, and we share exciting updates on multiple fronts in our quarterly update. We have assembled a top-notch staff, whose members bring decades of experience in test development, measurement, and administration. Their hard work, along with volunteer and stakeholder participation, will ensure that redesign and deployment are transparent, clear, and fair to all examinees. We look forward to sharing developments with courts and admissions boards at upcoming educational events and via the NextGen website at nextgenbarexam.ncbex.org.

Tributes

When we heard the news of Dean Emerita Mary Kay Kane’s illness and passing, we were devastated. Mary Kay was a pioneer in legal education, and she brought trailblazer determination and spirit to the formidable task of bringing Civil Procedure to the MBE. Her contributions to legal education are well-documented; her contributions to bar admissions are lesser known. But, as Dean Ben Spencer of the William & Mary Law School so powerfully demonstrates in his tribute to Mary Kay, she made an indelible impact on NCBE staff and the drafting committee community. Her knowledge of Civil Procedure, leadership values, and work ethic were only outshone by her kindness and compassion for others. We thank Ben for writing such a beautiful tribute to Mary Kay and for assuming leadership of this Committee in the wake of her passing.

We also lost another NCBE volunteer, Stuart Duhl, who contributed so much to NCBE and the larger admissions community during his tenure on the NCBE Board of Trustees and the Illinois Board of Admissions. We offer our condolences to Stuart’s family and we thank former NCBE Board member Ike Berkman for his warm and fitting tribute to Stuart.

Farewells and Welcomes

I would like to bid a final farewell and a heartfelt thank-you to Dr. Mark Albanese, NCBE’s longtime Director of Testing and Research. Mark retired at the end of April but continued to serve in a part-time capacity through the end of August. Mark’s commitment to exam excellence, psychometric research, and service to all stakeholders leaves a lasting legacy. His contributions to NCBE and the jurisdictions will be felt for years. We wish Mark and his family all the best in his retirement.

I would also like to thank Sahbra Jacobs, outgoing chair of the Council of Bar Admission Administrators (CBAA). Sahbra is Counsel to the Committee on Character for the New Jersey Board of Bar Examiners. She ably served the CBAA and NCBE community during year two of the pandemic. Her leadership has been evident, and we are grateful for all she has done in the face of challenging circumstances. With Sahbra’s term ending, we welcome Brad Skolnik, Executive Director of the Indiana Office of Admissions and Continuing Education, as CBAA chair. We look forward to working with Brad.

August marks the new year for NCBE’s Board of Trustees and, with that, a time to say “thank you for your service” to outgoing Board members. Judge Cynthia Martin, chief judge for the Western District Court of Appeals in Missouri, will be leaving the NCBE Board. She’ll continue, though, as chair of the Implementation Steering Committee (ISC) for the next generation of the bar exam. The ISC is hard at work implementing the recommendations of NCBE’s Testing Task Force, which Judge Martin also chaired. The recommendations, which were approved by the NCBE Board of Trustees in January, are the product of the Task Force’s three-year study. Judge Martin is a tireless volunteer and helped shepherd NCBE through the pandemic. We are very grateful that she is staying on to help guide the work on the next generation of the bar exam.

Judge Phyllis Thompson of the DC Court of Appeals is retiring from the NCBE Board. She has been an active Board member, and under her leadership we developed a partnership with the Council on Legal Education Opportunity Inc. (CLEO) in 2018, which continues today. The NCBE/CLEO Bar Passage Program, for which NCBE provides funding and other support, helps CLEO law students prepare to pass the bar examination, in support of our shared goal of increasing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. We are very lucky that Judge Thompson will continue to serve as chair of NCBE’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Bucky Askew of Georgia becomes our immediate past chair, having also ably provided leadership to us and our stakeholders during this past year. He is a good friend, like Judge Martin and Judge Thompson. I will miss our regular talks throughout the past year as we navigated year two of pandemic conditions.

Suzanne Richards of Ohio is NCBE’s new Board chair. She brings a wealth of experience as a longtime member of the Ohio Supreme Court’s Board of Commissioners on Character and Fitness. She has some exciting initiatives that she’ll write about in her upcoming columns.

And finally, we welcome two new Board members: Chief Justice Scott Bales (ret.) of the Arizona Supreme Court, and Judge Solomon Oliver, Jr., federal judge for the Northern District of Ohio. (See the announcement in this issue’s News & Events section.) Both Chief ­Justice Bales and Judge Oliver bring a wealth of bar admissions and legal education experience to NCBE, including serving on the ABA Council for the Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. Judge Oliver recently retired as a longtime member of one of our MBE drafting committees, so he knows our test development process very well. We are thrilled that they are joining our Board, and we look forward to working with them.

So, as summer makes way for fall, we acknowledge the contributions of those who were so instrumental to furthering our mission for 90 years, and we welcome new volunteers to continue our mission to help ensure a competent, ethical, and diverse legal profession.

Until the next issue,

Judy

Judith A. Gundersen

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