What to watch for in 2020

Ringing in the new year is particularly exciting for the Testing Task Force because 2020 is the year we will complete our three-year study of the bar exam.

By the end of the year, we will make our recommendations to NCBE’s Board of Trustees about what content the next generation of the bar exam should test and how that content should be tested. These recommendations will be based on the work already completed in Phase 1 (stakeholder listening sessions) and Phase 2 (practice analysis) of our study, as well as the work to be accomplished this year in Phase 3 (program redesign). Although it is still too early to predict what our final recommendations will be, there is no doubt that this study will be transformational for the bar exam and legal licensing in the coming decade.

This past summer, ACS Ventures LLC (ACS), an independent research consulting firm, successfully completed a nationwide practice analysis survey for the Task Force. ACS and the Task Force have been working closely to analyze and interpret the survey results—with 14,846 valid responses, the practice analysis produced a lot of quantitative data to consider. A detailed Phase 2 report is in development and will be published in the next few weeks, but in the meantime, we are excited to share a sneak preview of some highlights here: among the knowledge areas rated as important for newly licensed lawyers were Rules of Professional Responsibility and Ethical Obligations, Civil Procedure, Contracts, Evidence, and Legal Research Methodology, while skills and abilities that were rated as important included Reading Comprehension, Analytical Thinking, Written Expression, Identifying Issues, and Fact Gathering.

The Task Force has also been busy finalizing the plan for Phase 3, which will consist of developing a test blueprint (what will be tested) and design (how it will be tested). First, ACS will facilitate the work of a blueprint development committee (BDC) composed of 12–15 legal subject matter experts—newly licensed lawyers (NLLs) and supervisors of NLLs from around the country with various practice and demographic backgrounds—to review the results of the practice analysis and recommend content representative of the knowledge, skills, and abilities that should be tested on the bar exam. The BDC will convene for a two-day meeting in April. Once the BDC has developed a draft blueprint of what will be tested, a separate test design committee (TDC) will focus on how to best test the content, taking into consideration cost, feasibility, and best practices in testing. The TDC will be comprised of external stakeholders such as bar administrators, examiners, justices, and legal educators, and will meet in early summer. The recommendations of the BDC and TDC will be reviewed by the Task Force, NCBE Testing and Research staff, and NCBE’s Technical Advisory Panel of external testing experts. Additionally, the Task Force will seek comments and opinions more broadly from the stakeholder community before the blueprint and design are finalized.

These Phase 3 activities will complete the Task Force’s research so that by fall, we will have all the information we need to craft sound recommendations for the bar exam of the future. We encourage you to subscribe to receive Task Force updates so that you’ll be notified when the Practice Analysis report is published and can keep on top of all the latest news as Phase 3 gets under way.


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David Goldman

It almost seems that the essential law school courses may be giving way to some general post graduate school courses. That would not be a good event, for the future of the U.S.A. legal and justice systems.