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We closed our last blog post by inviting readers to join a conversation about some of the fundamental questions that will guide the work of the Testing Task Force—questions about what the legal profession looks like today, what it’s likely to look like in the future, and how to best ensure that those entering the profession are ready for the work that lies ahead of them. This is a conversation taking place across the country right now, in conference rooms and classrooms, in person and online.

The Testing Task Force aims to study the legal profession as it is practiced by new lawyers today and to anticipate what newly licensed lawyers of the relatively near future will need to know and be able to do. Although the Task Force’s study is limited to the bar examination, it must take into consideration recent changes or potential future changes to the profession and the regulation of the profession; such changes could affect the work performed by newly licensed lawyers, which in turn could affect what should be tested on the bar examination. For example, many lawyers today are specializing early in their careers; because of this, it is not uncommon to hear that bar examinees see it as a waste of time to prepare for and be tested on a broad range of subjects, including those they believe they will never need to know. But the fact remains that entry to the profession currently involves a general license to practice in all areas of law, subject only to the lawyer’s ethical duty of competence. What is the appropriate breadth and depth of legal knowledge that all lawyers need, regardless of their areas of specialization—even if specialization increasingly becomes the norm?

Although the content or format of the bar examination might need to change in response to a changing legal profession, the exam’s purpose remains the same: to determine whether individuals seeking a license to practice have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to practice safely and effectively. The Testing Task Force must consider what a bar examination that fulfills this purpose while serving a dynamic professional and regulatory landscape should look like. The conversation around the bar examination is already robust and wide-ranging, with plenty of ideas circulating about changes that might be made—step testing, specialization certification, open book testing, simulations, and alternative assessment methods like portfolios, to name just a few.

If you’re starting to feel like there’s a lot to take in here, you’re right! One of the tasks of our independent research consultants will be to help us gather, analyze, and weigh the wealth of data, ideas, and opinions on these topics and others. Ultimately, the Testing Task Force must come up with a set of recommendations for a bar examination that continues to satisfy the three foundational principles of testing—validity, reliability, and fairness—to support the needs of jurisdictions as they make the licensing decisions of the future.

As always, we encourage you to contact us if you’d like to take part in our work by joining a focus group, completing a survey, or participating in some other way.

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Jonathan Azrael

Pressure is building for states to certify legal practitioners as Specialists in various areas of law. Certification has been limited so far primarily because states lack the resources to develop, approve and test qualifications for certification. I suggest the Task Force consider whether NCBE can and should play a role in developing and testing qualifications for certification of Specialists in certain practice areas. A uniform standard for Specialist Certification would serve both members of the bar and the public.

Jonathan Azrael

My belief is that there will be increasing interest promoting and advertising specialization, and that the public would be served by a process by which attorneys can be certified as specialists in particlular areas of law. I suggest the Task Force consider the issue of Specialization and whether the NCBE can play a role in developing testing