This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, Fall 2020 (Vol. 89, No. 1), pp. 2–5. By Hon. Cynthia L. Martin
On Being Indefatigable; on Being Informed
indefatigable: incapable of being fatigued; untiring. (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, 1993)
informed: having information; educated. (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, 1993)
information: knowledge communicated by others or obtained from investigation, study, or instruction. (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, 1993)
As I write this message, we are still in the grip of COVID-19, a situation we have found ourselves in since March. For the past several months, a microscopic change agent like none we’ve encountered before has generated fear, anxiety, and uncertainty. Social distancing—a term now in everyone’s daily vocabulary—forced us to dramatically modify, with virtually no time to prepare, the ordinary course of our personal and professional lives. Remote work; closed nonessential businesses; schools and universities required to convert to online learning, with some deciding to continue this method of instruction in the fall and even into 2021; major sporting and cultural events canceled worldwide—these are just a few of the major transformations to “life as we know it” to which we had to suddenly adapt. This pandemic, which has taken us on what feels like a tumultuous roller coaster ride, has left virtually nothing unscathed. That includes the manner in which services and products are being provided by the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
Travel restrictions and bans on large gatherings forced NCBE to cancel its popular and highly anticipated Annual Bar Admissions Conference, which had been scheduled to take place in New Orleans in early May, as well as its Annual Meeting held jointly with the Council of Bar Admission Administrators, which had been scheduled to take place in my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri, in early August. Some of the sessions that had been scheduled for those events were instead presented virtually. Other meetings with NCBE’s volunteer members had to be either postponed or converted to virtual meetings, sometimes on short notice.
State and local health and safety restrictions necessitated working collaboratively with jurisdictions to craft mountain-moving solutions to address the uncertainty surrounding administration of the July 2020 bar examination in many jurisdictions. As a result, NCBE not only made its bar exam materials available for two additional administrations in the fall, but subsequently offered an emergency remote testing option for early October should an in-person exam not be possible for some jurisdictions in the fall. Were that not enough, vocal minorities have capitalized on the COVID-19 crisis to demand that 2020 law school graduates be relieved of any obligation to take a bar examination at all.
I do not intend to describe in detail the inspiring and imaginative solutions to the COVID-19 crisis that NCBE has collaboratively crafted, or the extraordinary efforts that NCBE has undertaken to marshal facts, data, and empirical information in response to those with an anti–bar examination agenda. What I will address is the inspiring indefatigability I have witnessed from NCBE during the COVID-19 pandemic. NCBE has demonstrated an untiring, unflappable commitment to serving bar admission authorities that need support and assistance during these unprecedented times.
NCBE’s mission to inform and educate has never been more important. This pandemic imposed strain on bar admission authorities to decide whether they were able to administer the bar examination in person in July 2020 and how best to address the inability to do so. These are serious issues. They require thoughtful, considered, informed action. NCBE has responded by marshaling information and resources to lend empirical guidance to state bar admission authorities in their communications with Courts and other stakeholders about the role of a high-stakes licensure examination in ensuring minimum competence and public protection, about the important relationship between legal education and all other requirements of licensure (including the bar examination), and about the relative pros and cons of a variety of proposed responses addressing the effect of COVID-19 on 2020 law school graduates. NCBE has hosted weekly virtual roundtables for jurisdiction bar admission administrators to enable them to communicate and collaborate on the common and unprecedented issues they are facing and the decisions they are having to make.
Looking at NCBE’s mission to inform and educate in broader terms—and in light of recent debate over the bar exam—we have all heard the saying that “everyone is entitled to an opinion.” However, an opinion that is not an informed opinion has virtually no power to effect positive change. To have a productive impact, a point of view that challenges the status quo must be an informed point of view.
NCBE considers it essential to disseminate relevant information concerning bar admission standards and practices and to conduct educational programs for those with an interest in bar admissions. You might ask, “Why?” Why would an organization primarily responsible for the development and provision of standardized examinations for the high-stakes testing of applicants for admission to the practice of law include informing and educating in its mission?
The answer is simple. It is the right thing to do. In an age of increased focus on transparency, those who use NCBE’s products and services should (1) have access to information that will instill confidence in the quality and integrity of NCBE’s products and services, (2) be provided opportunities to collaborate with others who use NCBE’s products and services, and (3) benefit from NCBE’s ability to devote resources to the research and study of issues of general importance and interest to the bar admissions community. NCBE accomplishes these goals by sponsoring educational programs for bar examiners, bar administrators, legal educators, and state Supreme Court justices, and by providing readily accessible written resources free of charge through its websites and publications.
NCBE also offers individuals an opportunity to gain information and an education about NCBE’s products and services through service on NCBE committees. NCBE’s committees are mostly populated with individuals who are not on NCBE’s Board of Trustees and who, but for committee service, would not have a direct voice in the provision of NCBE’s products and services. In 2019, NCBE introduced a volunteer solicitation form permitting those with an interest in committee service to identify themselves. Though committee member slots are finite in number, and though appointment of committee members appropriately considers a number of factors to ensure diversity across several planes, I am proud to report that in making committee appointments for 2019–2020, I was able to appoint 19 of the individuals who completed a volunteer form.
Over my years of service on the Board of Trustees, I have come to intimately appreciate the substantial resources (in terms of money, personnel, and attention) devoted by NCBE to informing and educating those with an interest in bar admissions. It has occurred to me on more than one occasion that NCBE’s mission takes the harder path, as a simpler business model could justifiably focus only on the development and provision of high-quality examination products. That is, in fact, the business model of some testing organizations.
I am proud, however, that NCBE has never believed it appropriate to travel the simpler path. I am proud that NCBE’s leadership remains committed to devoting substantial resources to ensure that constituents have access to information and research necessary to develop informed opinions about NCBE’s services and products. I cannot imagine a bar admitting ecosystem without an umbrella organization like NCBE uniquely postured and willing to devote time and energy necessary to do the right thing, even when the information or data provided is unfavorable, or could subject the organization to criticism. This is true especially now.
To the indefatigable team at NCBE: You are inspiring. You are honest. You are passionate. You are thoughtful. You care. You are motivated. Above all, the abiding, central theme that underscores every single decision you make and every single message you deliver is consistent and unselfish: best practices. Best practices in the development of high-stakes licensure exams. Best practices in the administering of high-stakes licensure exams. Best practices in maintaining the security of high-stakes licensure exam products. Best practices in maintaining the integrity of scores generated by a high-stakes licensure exam. Best practices in promoting score portability for the benefit of applicants who may not yet know where they will practice law. Best practices in ensuring that the bar exam serves the important objective of public protection.
Swirling storms generated by COVID-19 have required NCBE to demonstrate nimble fluidity, and to exert tireless effort to craft and implement extraordinary measures to ensure that every 2020 law school graduate has the opportunity to sit for a bar examination during 2020. Though the pandemic has necessitated changes in the manner in which products and services are provided by NCBE, in every respect that truly matters, nothing about the manner in which NCBE conducts itself has changed. NCBE’s commitment to its mission and values has not wavered during this pandemic. If anything, NCBE’s passionate commitment to serve jurisdictions has been underscored and amplified during the COVID-19 crisis. That is a direct result of the unyielding and indefatigable commitment made by each and every member of the NCBE team to afford intellectually honest, top-flight service in the face of challenges that could not have been imagined a few months ago.
As I see it, NCBE has been a first responder in the face of COVID-19. For every jurisdiction that has been ably served by NCBE over the years, there can be no doubt that in this time of chaos and crisis, you have been able to turn to and count on NCBE to be there with and for you, with a “no-quit” attitude and as an “all-in” problem solver. That is precisely what NCBE should be for the jurisdictions it serves. Steady. Available. Imaginative. Informative. Integrated. Devoted to service. Committed to problem solving that remains true to the purpose of the bar exam as an essential requirement for licensure.
I am a volunteer—a lucky soul who has been afforded the privilege of serving as the chair of the Board of Trustees for an organization that has worked tirelessly to professionalize bar admissions with a purpose-driven commitment to education and the provision of quality exam products and services. By the time this message is published, I will have passed the reins as chair of the Board of Trustees to the able hands of my good friend Hulett (Bucky) Askew, who will inherit my good fortune.
My year as chair has been a remarkable one, for reasons no sane person would ever want to replicate, except for this: I have been blessed to bear witness, from a front-row seat, to the remarkable work of an indefatigable team. Your persistence and unflagging efforts to do the right thing, all the time, every time, despite the skeptics and opportunists, and despite the immeasurable personal toll and strain imposed on each of you as a result of COVID-19, has been humbling and inspiring to observe. To every member of the NCBE team, you are a hero in my eyes.
Leadership is the indefatigable pursuit of vision and values. Through the most difficult of times, NCBE has proven indefatigable and, in the process, has personified leadership. When the dust that is COVID-19 settles, and when some semblance of normalcy is restored, the immeasurable value of NCBE’s steady leadership in the storm will be recognized and fully appreciated. Leaders stabilize the ship during rough seas and deliver safe passage. Bar admission authorities have counted on NCBE for that kind of leadership in the past, they are drawing comfort and solace from that kind of leadership during the pandemic, and they will be able to depend on that kind of leadership in the future. I could not be prouder of NCBE, or of each and every member of the NCBE team.
Hon. Cynthia L. Martin
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