This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, March 2016 (Vol. 85, No. 1), pp 2–3.

By Hon. Thomas J. Bice

Portrait photo of Hon. Thomas J. BiceMy year as chair of the National Conference of Bar Examiners has proven to be extremely busy. Numerous committee meetings have been held, and the endless work undertaken by NCBE moves forward with constructive and positive developments on many fronts.

One highlight for me was attending the fall meeting of the Council of Bar Admission Administrators (CBAA), which was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, this past November. The CBAA is a group of highly dedicated and hardworking professionals who oversee and administer the bar exam in their various jurisdictions. Many of them also manage character and fitness issues that arise and see that the applicable local court rules are followed. It is energizing to associate with these folks and to share with them their passion for and commitment to the profession.

At the CBAA meeting’s opening breakfast, we were joined by Justice Edward L. Chavez of the New Mexico Supreme Court. After his initial words welcoming attendees to New Mexico, Justice Chavez embarked on a thought-provoking series of comments that struck a chord with me. It is his opinion that those who attend law school have come to have a sense of entitlement to the practice of law simply as a result of their education. He respectfully and diplomatically took issue with that position. He strongly suggested, a suggestion I endorse, that the practice of law is not an entitlement but rather an entrustment of a long-standing profession. And in keeping with Justice Chavez’s insightful comments was his observation that as bar examiners, we are truly the gatekeepers of this profession with which we, too, have been entrusted during our short tenures. His comments left me humbled but yet inwardly proud of being a bar examiner and of the trust placed in us to maintain the integrity and competency of this storied profession.

On a different note, much effort has been put forth in the past few months in finalizing the program for NCBE’s Annual Bar Admissions Conference. This year’s event is being held in Washington, D.C., on April 14–17 at the Grand Hyatt Washington. A review of the breakout sessions that are on the program reveals that many stimulating subjects will be discussed. In ­addition to generally covering the current state of law school admissions and new developments in legal education, the conference will present the latest data pertaining to legal education, bar admissions, and jobs. Sessions will also cover developments in cheating detection and test security as well as research initiatives focusing on diversity and access to justice. An overview of local law components administered in jurisdictions that have adopted the Uniform Bar Examination will be provided, and two sessions on globalization will address the relationship between international trade and bar admissions as well as provide information about competency standards and testing in Canada. Two of the sessions devoted to character and fitness issues will explore the theory and practice of rehabilitation and present the latest news about addictions; and sessions focusing on testing accommodations will educate attendees regarding contemporary approaches to evaluating and accommodating disabilities and provide guidance on evaluating disability documentation. In addition, plenary sessions will be presented that will explore and analyze the future of lawyer licensing and of the legal profession, address the changing nature of legal education, and provide guidance related to evaluating fitness to practice. This conference, as always, will provide an opportunity to review where the bar admissions community has been and where it is headed.

In addition to its many educational opportunities, another benefit of attending the Annual Conference is that it provides a chance to reconnect with colleagues in the bar admissions community as well as make new contacts. Networking and the ability to make new connections is of great importance within this group. Such communication allows frank and insightful discussions with others from different jurisdictions about challenges that confront us all. It is this social exchange and ­dialogue that is invaluable in working on common problems within the bar admissions community. This event is a “must” for those who take their roles as bar examiners ­seriously.

The January meeting of the NCBE Board of Trustees earlier this year marked an important milestone: the 85th anniversary of the Conference. In attendance for an event held to celebrate this occasion were many former NCBE chairs. This reunion, and the exchange of memories and observations about the Conference, was a high point of this event honoring NCBE’s heritage and those who have served in the past. And this “home­coming” event was made even sweeter with the presence of Beverly Tarpley in our collective midst. It is hard to believe that we have now lost Beverly at She was such an inspiration, and her intellect, wit, and energy—which she so unselfishly shared with everyone associated with NCBE—will be greatly missed.

Finally, I want to continue to thank all of those who tirelessly and with sacrifice serve on the various NCBE committees. Without their commitment and hard work as entrusted professionals, the work of the Conference would be virtually impossible. Further, to our president and her staff of professionals who are so extremely dedicated to the work of the Conference, a sincere continuing word of thanks.

Best regards to all.

Signature of Hon. Thomas J. Bice
Hon. Thomas J. Bice

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