City Bar Makes Recommendations on Future of NY Bar Exam

The New York City Bar Association’s Council on the Profession, along with its Civil Rights Committee and its Office for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, wrote a letter with recommendations to the Working Group on the Future of the NY Bar Exam, setting forth as a guiding principle that “the bar examination and admission process in New York must be a robust and inclusive process with values and benchmarks that reflect and promote principles of justice.”

First among the recommendations is that New York continue to administer the Universal Bar Exam as offered by the National Council of Bar Examiners (NCBE), and that New York adopt the NextGen Bar Exam when NCBE does so in 2025. The letter says that the NextGen Exam’s focus on skills rather than memorization, and its alignment with legal educational trends of the past two decades, make it a superior tool for assessing competence. According to the letter, “if rolled out as planned, the NextGen exam will protect the public, ensure fairness to examinees, and therefore protect against legal challenges.”

In the event that New York chooses not to adopt the NextGen Exam, the letter offers recommendations for formulating and administering a New York Law Exam (NYLE). Although the letter reiterates that this process would be both time consuming and costly, it suggests that a NYLE “should generally test core lawyering skills and foundational concepts rather than an applicant’s ability to memorize rules and exceptions that are quickly and easily found through legal research.”

Whereas some have proposed an intermediate solution—administering some combination of the UBE and NYLE—the letter states that this route would simply add an unnecessary financial burden to exam takers who would have to make additional preparations. A far better way to accomplish the goal of exposing new lawyers to state-specific laws, according to the letter, would be to require new lawyers to take a certain number of CLE credits on that topic in their first two years of practice.

The letter concludes with an appraisal of alternative pathways to bar admission such as diploma privilege coupled with supervised clinical practice experience. The letter raises four critical points of consideration for the development of these alternative pathways: (1) that alternative pathways be available to all graduates who wish to practice in New York, so that New York continues to be a hub of practice for attorneys from across the country; (2) consideration should be given to the financial impact on law schools, building on programs that law schools already have in place; the letter points out that law schools’ reaction to alternative pathways to bar admission in New York could have far-reaching effects on legal education and access to legal education throughout the country; (3) care should be taken to ensure that graduates who take this path to admission are not stigmatized; and (4) alternative pathways that entail post-graduate employment should involve paid employment and should be part of the regular hiring of graduates for post-graduation full-time employment.

Read the letter here: