Ask the Professor: New York and the Uniform Bar Exam

New York has always been the vanguard when it comes to making legal precedent. When Justice Benjamin Cardozo left the New York Court of Appeals to join the U.S. Supreme Court, many viewed it as a step backwards. New York is proposing adopting the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE).

Is this a step backwards or a move forward for New York and the rest of the country?

For those unfamiliar, first adopted in 2011, the UBE is a uniform bar exam that is prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and is administered, graded, and scored by 14 U.S. jurisdictions. The exam, like all other bar exams, tests knowledge and skills that every lawyer should be able to demonstrate prior to becoming licensed to practice law. The UBE exam has three components: (1) the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), multi-subject essays that test legal reasoning; (2) the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), a closed universe writing assignment that is similar to what they have you do as a 1L in legal writing class; and (3) the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), a 200 multiple choice question exam testing seven subjects. Much like the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE), each student’s score on the UBE exam is portable, meaning that the student may submit the score to any other UBE jurisdiction as part of the attorney admission process. While the UBE is administered uniformly, each individual jurisdiction sets its own passing score and continues to decide who may sit for the bar exam and who will be admitted.

Such a drastic change in the composition of the bar exam in New York is not without precedent. When the New York Board of Law Examiners adopted the MBE, only a handful of states were using it. However, as soon as New York adopted the MBE, the rest of the country quickly joined. As Erica Moeser, President of the National Conference of Bar Examiners said, the UBE’s development has been “awaiting a state that has a lot of candidates, to provided that springboard for other larger jurisdictions to come aboard.” New York would be that state.

Is this good or bad?

Many see the switch from a state specific exam to the UBE as beneficial in that the scores will be portable and will allow students to better pursue job opportunities. Further, it would allow law firms and other prospective employers to draw from larger pools of law students with the increased “portability” of where they can practice.

But will there be unintended consequences? Passing the New York bar exam was a special achievement, something unique. That panache will be lost. (But who wants to be snobby anyway?) More importantly, will this make for an even tougher job market in New York? A person can sit for the exam in Arizona and apply for jobs in New York. The job market may be better for the rest of the country, but will it make the New York market impossible to get employed in? Further, what is the incentive to come to a school in New York? Why pay the high cost of tuition at an unranked New York law school when you can study in Colorado? Can these schools in New York survive the UBE?

Only time will tell if this is good for New York and/or the rest of the country.

–Professor Joseph Marino 

Note: Marino Bar Review offers bar review courses for fourteen UBE jurisdictions.


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