This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, June 2017 (Vol. 86, No. 2), pp 2–3.

By Robert Chong

Portrait photo of Robert A. ChongAloha `Oe (“Farewell to Thee”) is the song composed by Hawai`i’s last reigning monarch, Liliu`okalani, as she bade good-bye to her beloved Kingdom of Hawai`i on the advent of Hawai`i’s becoming the 50th State of the Union. The words and melody of this song are in my mind as I write this, my last Letter from the Chair. It seems like only yesterday that I was writing my first one, contemplating the daunting prospect of balancing my new duties as chair with maintaining my very active private law practice.

This certainly has not been an ordinary year for NCBE, with numerous challenges on many fronts. The search for Erica Moeser’s successor as President and Chief Executive Officer of NCBE has dominated the agenda for the NCBE Board of Trustees. Clearly the stakes are high. The Board was tasked with the responsibility of finding a replacement who not only would continue the tremendous progress NCBE has made in the world of high-stakes testing under Erica’s leadership but who also expresses a vision for positive change within NCBE. We were looking for someone who would be willing to reorganize the organization if needed to maximize its functionality and its production of high-quality testing products.

My sincerest thanks go out to the Board’s Search Committee, under the outstanding leadership of the Honorable Thomas Bice of Iowa and with assistance from search consultant Barbara Mayden, for its tireless work in conducting countless hours of interviews as it narrowed the broad field of candidates down to four finalists. Each of the finalists was invited to visit NCBE’s Madison headquarters in April and meet with staff. Staff members were encouraged to communicate their support or concerns for each finalist to the Board. The four finalists were then each interviewed again by the Board in May in San Diego, the site of this year’s Annual Bar Admissions Conference. Although the timing of this publication precludes my being able to announce the Board’s decision, transition plans at NCBE are firmly in place.     

Undoubtedly counting down the days to her retirement, President Erica Moeser shows no signs of serving her remaining months on the job as a lame duck. She continues to advise and lead in her usual exemplary manner and stands ready to assist fully in the transition to her successor. For me personally she has been instrumental in keeping me abreast of the ongoing concerns of the organization, offering her invaluable assistance, support, and advice. No one feels the pulse of the organization better than President Moeser.

My very special thanks go to my colleagues on the NCBE Board of Trustees for their hard work and guidance, and for their concerted effort to remain civil, cohesive, and collegial during some very challenging times. During the search for Erica’s successor, when some of us seemed entrenched in our respective positions, we engaged in healthy debates and always managed to agree to disagree, maintaining a level of collegiality and professionalism in our shared commitment to ensuring a sound future for NCBE’s leadership.

My heartfelt appreciation also goes to the entire professional staff at NCBE for providing me with their assistance and wise counsel. For the dedication of NCBE’s loyal and conscientious support staff, whose coordinated but often unnoticed work makes things happen, I extend my profound gratitude.

To all the bar administrators who interface between NCBE and the respective Courts and the frontline world of individual applicants, you have my utmost appreciation for your dedication, patience, and support. Under Article II of NCBE’s Bylaws, you are one of the purposes for which NCBE exists. NCBE remains committed to providing the highest-quality testing products, character and fitness investigations, and other services to assist you in your roles in the assessment of applicants seeking admission to the profession.

My hat goes off to the NCBE Education Committee and its chair, the Honorable Cindy Martin of Missouri, and Ellen Embertson-Merrill, NCBE’s Educational Programming Coordinator, for having put together a very successful Annual Bar Admissions Conference in San Diego this past May. My gratitude also goes out to my colleagues on the Board for their hard work as moderators or even speakers themselves. The conference broke the NCBE attendance record with 380 in attendance representing 55 U.S. jurisdictions and over 100 first-time attendees. The feedback from attendees was overwhelmingly favorable. Kudos to NCBE’s graphic designer, Amy Kittleson, for a superb job on the program materials and conference website. To all the speakers at this year’s program, thank you for your time and participation in making this year’s conference one of the most memorable ever.

As predicted, the bar examination community continues to live through a period of declining bar passage rates, as evidenced by the results of the February 2017 administration. The finger-pointing about the cause for the decline in performance continues, pitting many in the world of law school academia against NCBE. Notwithstanding the ongoing friction, however, there is a more conciliatory dialogue taking place between the two sides to work together in identifying and addressing the cause for the decline in bar passage rates. We as bar examiners and administrators must nevertheless continue to maintain our focus on our role as gatekeepers to the profession by ensuring that only those who possess the minimum competence to practice law and who meet the requisite character and fitness standards be admitted into the profession.

As my tenure as chair ends, I cannot help but reflect upon those “giants” in the NCBE family whom we have lost in recent years. We owe John Oliver, Erias Hymen, Beverly Tarpley, and Jerry Hafter a debt of gratitude for their enduring friendship, wise counsel, and significant contributions to the world of bar admissions. Each of them had a profound influence on me and on how I tried to conduct myself during my tenure as a Board member.

Again, a special mahalo a nui loa (thank you very much) to all of you who compose the NCBE `ohana, or family, and who have shortened the distance for me between the mainland and this little rock I call home. The patience, support, and friendship of NCBE’s directors and support staff back in Madison kept me focused on what I was supposed to be doing. A very special aloha goes to Laurie Lutz, NCBE’s Meetings Coordinator, whose timely, well-coordinated, and detailed planning makes it possible for us to travel to and from our numerous destinations for meetings and conferences throughout the year.

To the incoming NCBE chair, the Honorable Chief Justice Rebecca Berch (Ret.) from Arizona, I can state with confidence that you will enjoy your term as chair as much as I have, because of all the great people you will continue to work with at NCBE and on the Board of Trustees. I wish all of you the very best.

`O wau nō me ka mahalo. I am yours respectfully,

Signature that says Bobby
Robert A. Chong

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