This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, Winter 2022–2023 (Vol. 91, No. 4), pp. 3–5.By Judith A. Gundersen

Portrait Photo of Judith A. GundersenGratitude

I am writing this column just after Thanksgiving, and the season’s inaugural snowfall has come and gone here in Madison. 

As 2022 slowly fades into our collective memory, I have been reflecting on everything I am very grateful for in my professional and personal lives. This column focuses on the professional side—to let so many colleagues know how much they mean to me and NCBE in our work to serve the profession.

But first, a personal point on the origins of my attitude toward gratitude, which I learned from my mom, Evelyn. Though she passed away, age 87, almost four years ago, I think of her every day and am grateful for her continued impact on my life. She practiced daily gratitude (even when the day might not have given much to be grateful for). Her devotion to gratitude was neither forced nor feigned. Maybe that’s because she grew up with so little in the way of creature comforts or “stuff,” but with an abundance of appreciation for the everyday gifts in her life. 

My mom, along with her parents and three siblings, lived on a dairy farm in Sheboygan County, Wisconsin, an area still dotted with family farms, woods, rivers, and lakes. Growing up on a farm, hard work and family cooperation were expected. Chores had to be done 365 days a year. Cows had to be milked, eggs gathered from the chicken coop, and the garden weeded. With no indoor plumbing,  my grandmother had to heat water on the stove for the weekly bath. (With four kids, you did not want to be the last person to hop in the tub!) And, yes … my mother did have to walk a mile to school both ways in winter. The phone line was even shared with several families, and if you spoke German, you could listen in on some good stories!

Bound up with my mom’s idea of gratitude is the need to be a steward of relationships. I want to recognize how highly I value my relationships with those with whom I work regularly and how grateful I am for all of them.

Jurisdiction Administrators and Admissions Staff

To start: those who manage each jurisdiction’s admissions office. They might have different titles—executive director, manager, director—but they all have one thing in common: they oversee the admission of new attorneys in their jurisdictions. I’ll refer to them as “administrators” here, but their job responsibilities vastly exceed that title. And in my 22 years at NCBE I have seen the administrator position become more complex, even more than it was a decade ago.

Administrators have to be experts in so many areas to manage their jobs’ wide-ranging demands: technology, event planning, test security and administration, statistics, human resources, customer service, counseling, volunteer coordination, communications, and rule drafting. And I’m sure there are more aspects I’m missing!

So many admissions stakeholders depend on them, including our NCBE team. We work together on exam security, administration, and preparation, particularly on securing the right materials for the exam and getting them securely to NCBE for post-administration processing. Law schools and their students depend on them for critical information about the exam and admissions in general, as well as the character and fitness process. And, of course, the administrators work closely with their courts and bar associations to implement admissions-­related tasks on their behalf.

Every administrator in the jurisdictions manages these responsibilities; some do so with no staff and fewer than 100 candidates per year, and others with dozens of staff members and thousands of candidates. There is wide variety in these positions’ funding and resources. Regardless, they are uniformly dedicated to serving the profession in their jurisdictions. They are a welcoming and giving community that welcome new administrators into the fold and offer support and guidance.

NCBE counts on administrators’ experience and input on many policy-­related matters pertaining to the bar exam—including the Uniform Bar Exam and the next generation of the bar exam under development—the character and fitness process, technology, and educational programming. We greatly value and need their input and perspectives. Over 30 administrators (and other admissions staff) serve on NCBE policy committees.

NCBE’s Board of Trustees includes two administrators: John McAlary of New York, and Lisa Perlen of Tennessee. Jeff Shipley of Maryland also participates on our Board as the Council of Bar Admission Administrators chair. And of course, we recently hired Marilyn Wellington of Massachusetts to serve as our Chief Strategy and Operations Officer and Sophie Martin of New Mexico as our Director of Communications, Education, and Outreach. They both add the administrator’s perspective to all we do.

NCBE’s Board of Trustees

I am also grateful for the NCBE Board of Trustees for the leadership, support, wisdom, and expertise they share with me and NCBE. Tim Wong of Minnesota currently leads the Board, and he brings so much great experience as a bar examiner, grader, and policy committee member. We could not do our work without our engaged and involved Board members. They chair our policy committees, volunteer on the Implementation Steering Committee to help lead the NextGen bar exam project, and perform important outreach on behalf of the bar admissions community and NCBE.

Being on the NCBE Board requires a serious time commitment as well as a commitment to our vision of helping to realize a competent, ethical, and diverse legal profession. Our Board is composed of justices, state and federal judges, administrators, bar examiners, graders, and law faculty with a wealth of practice experience. Our Board members bring varied experiences—both in and out of admissions work—to ensure our Board has a broad perspective of the community we serve.

NCBE’s Policy Committee Members

Then there are the many volunteers who serve on our nine policy committees, representing 43 jurisdictions. As I noted above, NCBE depends on the input administrators and other admissions staff bring to committee service to help shape our policies and to do the work of the Conference; they are joined on our policy committees by bar examiners, judges, and justices. A current example of this important work is a multiyear project to review the character and fitness process from start to finish that is being directed by two of our volunteer committees, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, led by Judge Phyllis Thompson of the District of Columbia, and the Character and Fitness Investigations Committee, led by Suzanne Richards of Ohio, last year’s Board chair.

These committees met in mid-­December (all nine of them!) over the course of a few days for the first in-person policy committee group meeting since before the pandemic, and the first time we’ve scheduled all nine committees to meet over the same few days. Committee members’ energy, enthusiasm, and dedication to bar admissions were palpable. It was a great weekend to further the work of NCBE and for all attendees to learn about what other NCBE committees accomplished.

NCBE’s Drafting Committee Members

A particularly important volunteer group are our drafting committee members, who do the hard work of writing bar exam questions—those who do so for the current exam products (the MBE, MEE, MPT, and MPRE), as well as new drafters and content experts who are helping us create prototype items for the NextGen exam. To such talented and smart people who volunteer their time to write bar exam questions that go under great scrutiny by their colleagues and keep returning to do it again and again, I salute and thank you. Having staffed three drafting committees for many years, I know how hard the work is and what a slog it can be. We are indebted to you and very grateful for your service and dedication.

The NCBE Team

Finally, but most importantly, I want to express my gratitude for the singularly spectacular NCBE team. We’ve grown considerably in number over the past two years, mainly in support of NextGen, but there is also growth and innovation across departments. Our staff are dedicated to serving jurisdictions, candidates, admissions offices, courts, and the profession, and we try to convey that dedication in all we do. I feel so fortunate that we are colleagues. Those of us based in Madison are in the bricks-and-mortar NCBE office more than ever now, and it has been a joy to see our staff in person again!

There is so much else to be thankful for regarding the work that is happening at NCBE and in the world of bar admissions. I look forward to seeing so many of you at our Annual Bar Admissions Conference in May and at meetings between now and then.

My warmest regards and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2023.  

Until the next issue,

Signature of Judy Gundersen

Judith A. Gundersen

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