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Uniform Bar Exam

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Currently, individual states regulate the activities of their own lawyers and administer their own bar exams. However, the institution of a uniform bar exam (UBE) would make it easier for lawyers to become licensed in multiple states.

In April 2010, Missouri became the first state to adopt the Uniform Bar Examination, and the National Conference of Bar Examiners reported in June that North Dakota was the second state to do so.

Other jurisdictions considering the idea include Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Washington, D.C.

Even states that adopt the UBE would continue to conduct their own bar exams, which could include testing on that individual state's law. However, the UBE would allow lawyers to transfer a standard bar exam score between jurisdictions.

"Portable" UBE scores are recognized in all UBE jurisdictions. It's believed this would make it easier for recent law graduates facing an uncertain legal job market to be flexible in pursuing career opportunities throughout the country.

But there are other motivations for instituting a UBE. In a February 2009 article in The Bar Examiner, the concept of instituting a uniform bar exam is explored through a series of essays. The simple, yet profound phrases that sum up the essays are: ''This is an idea whose time has come,'' ''The devil is in the details,'' and ''It's the right thing to do.''

The authors of three of these essays are Frederic White, the Hon. Rebecca White Berch, and Hon. Gerald W. VandeWalle.

Frederic White serves as dean and professor of law at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, located in Fort Worth. Prior to coming to Texas Wesleyan, White served as dean and professor of law at Golden Gate University School of Law in San Francisco. He also was a professor of law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, Cleveland, Ohio, for 26 years.

Essentially, in his essay, ''A Uniform Bar Examination: An Idea Whose Time Has Come'' he discusses the idea that in general, everyone agrees the practice of law has changed dramatically in the last 20 years. Unfortunately, he believes the licensing process for U.S. attorneys has failed to catch up with today's realities.

Additionally, he discusses the fact that even though there may be some local variations in practice or regional differences involving, for example, community property, a contract written in New York still involves virtually the same concepts as one written in any other state. Consequently, there is not really a rational justification for having each state administer its own bar examination.

The Hon. Rebecca White Berch is Vice Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court and a former longtime member of the Arizona Bar Examinations Committee. In her essay, ''The Case for the Uniform Bar Exam'', she addresses the underlying question of why a jurisdiction might want to consider adopting a UBE.

She points to the fact that people travel and move more frequently in today's world. More often than not, lawyers don't live and practice entirely in one state anymore. Also, she cites the fact that electronic communications and transfers of money already make it easy to effect multijurisdictional transactions on behalf of clients; the potential to join the bar in another state without taking that state's bar exam would further facilitate the practice of law. Additionally, she feels a UBE would ensure uniform content, uniform grading, a uniform passing score, uniform terms for evaluating special accommodations, and so much more.

The Hon. Gerald W. VandeWalle is Chief Justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court. He was appointed to the North Dakota Supreme Court in 1978 and has been Chief Justice since January 1, 1993.

In his essay, ''Life Without a Local Bar Exam'', he supports adopting a UBE, pointing to the fact that the results of local examinations are often unreliable. Criticisms of local exams have included allegations that the questions are not well written; the grading of the essay questions is not consistent; and the small number of people writing, and the exams may, in itself, cause a statistically unreliable result. However, he feels familiarity with unique local precedents is a real concern. In and of itself, though, the need for this local familiarity should not be the basis for rejecting the concept of the UBE. Overall, he feels there is a better way of doing something that is already being done relatively well.

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