This article originally appeared in The Bar Examiner print edition, September 2017 (Vol. 86, No. 3), pp 4–5.

By Judith A. GundersenPortrait photo of Judith A. GundersenI officially started in my new role as NCBE president on August 21, 2017—the day of the solar eclipse. Hundreds of years ago, people thought that the solar eclipse signaled the end of the world. At least now we know it’s just a super cool astronomical event. (N.B. The eclipse was at only 85% coverage in Madison.) I don’t know if starting as NCBE president on eclipse day was good or bad, but I do know that it was a day when the world stopped to notice because something was very different: fleeting darkness in the middle of the afternoon! It happens once every . . . . Well, the next solar eclipse visible from the United States won’t happen for years.

While the whole world knew about the solar eclipse, I’m pretty sure that only a few people noticed when the official changing of the guard took place at NCBE that same day. But for those of you in the world of bar admissions and legal education, this change signals a new era. It has to. Erica Moeser has been a singular force in the world of bar admissions. That she is retiring and going to find time to clean out her closets (among other things!) will be like a sustained eclipse here at the home office—something is different! Erica’s not here!

To be honest, it is a bit of an unenviable task to follow Erica Moeser. She has been at the helm at NCBE for 23 years, and I’ve yet to find something or someone she doesn’t know. But I know the organization as well as just about anyone (with an impor­tant exception mentioned above), and I’m in a good position to think about what it is that our Board of Trustees and I want to accomplish and what I want to convey to our stakeholders over the next year and beyond. While I don’t claim to have all the answers to the pressing questions of the times regarding bar admissions and the larger landscape of legal education and employment trends and how all the pieces fit together, I pledge the following:

  1. NCBE will maintain an unwavering commitment to providing the highest quality test materials and services to state licensing authorities. Period. If you are using our exams to help you make licensing decisions, then you should have confidence in the development, production, and scoring of these high-stakes test materials and also in the grading support we provide. If you’re an examinee or a legal educator, then you can have confidence that our exam questions are fully vetted for clarity and fairness and are produced in accordance with testing profession standards. Before questions are placed on an exam, they go through extensive vetting over the course of years by faculty, judges, lawyers, external reviewers, pretesters, and NCBE editorial and administrative staff.
  2. NCBE will strive to better communicate our activities to jurisdiction staff, boards, courts, bar associations, law schools, and examinees. You should expect to see a more dynamic website that will allow us to post items of interest to examinees, examiners, faculty, and courts. The Bar Examiner will also undergo a revamp that will improve understanding and stimulate conversation about the bar exam, law school admissions, and the changing nature of the legal marketplace and the practice of law. (The Bar Examiner revamp will involve not only content but also design—the first stage of which you will already have noticed: color photos!)
  3. We are working hard behind the scenes to leverage all that technology offers to help us improve the level of service we provide to state licensing authorities, including our research and measurement support to jurisdictions, and the services we offer to examinees. We recognize that technology requires a big investment of time and resources, and we are committed to investing in this area to continue to innovate and serve.
  4. We want to help law students and law schools prepare for success on the bar exam. We are about to offer two new study aids for the MBE and the MPRE. Both products will be for sale on our Study Aids Store web page later this fall. By the time you are reading this column, we will just have concluded a multiple-choice question writing workshop for approximately 45 faculty members led by two of our MBE drafting committee members, NCBE lawyer-editors, and our measurement staff.
  5. NCBE is also focusing on the future of the bar exam: how should content, format, and/or delivery change? What are the critical knowledge, skills, and abilities that should be measured through the bar exam, and how might we practically and effectively test them? We’re preparing to undertake the first of what we anticipate will be a series of validity studies. We’re simultaneously looking at delivery options for our exams other than paper and pencil. And of course, we remain committed to the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE)—the model embraced by 28 jurisdictions and counting. Over the first six years of the UBE, nearly 7,000 examinees have transferred UBE scores—that’s 7,000 exams that didn’t have to be retaken. And these figures don’t yet include the July 2017 exam.

I’m really excited and so very honored to have this opportunity to have a conversation with all of you who read this magazine. To be sure, there are challenges in legal education, bar admissions, and legal employment. But I think we’re all in this together. As lawyers, we have a lot more in common than what divides us. We all believe in and recognize the importance of the rule of law. Our system of American legal education remains strong. And employment? Well, the world isn’t getting any less complicated. It seems to me that the representation of a competent attorney is more crucial now than ever. And Jim Leipold of the National Association of Law Placement has encouraging news on the employment front; he writes that employment outcomes for the class of 2016 show some modest improvement. (For more information, see NALP Jobs & JDs’ “Employment for the Class of 2016—Selected Findings,” available at www.nalp.org/uploads/SelectedFindingsClassof2016.pdf.)

I can close with two more pieces of good news.  NCBE has obtained statistics for the July 2017 MBE, and the average MBE score increased 1.4 points compared to July 2016. For July 2017, the average MBE score was 141.7 with a standard deviation (SD) of 16.8. In July 2016 the average score was 140.3 with an SD of 16.7. So we now have had two consecutive July administrations with increasing MBE means. And the reliability of the July 2017 MBE was 0.93 with rounding, the same as it was in July 2016 when it reached an all-time high.

I would like to welcome Matt Samuelson as NCBE’s new Director of Test Operations. Matt is currently Chief Deputy Regulation Counsel in the Office of Attorney Regulation Counsel for the Colorado Supreme Court. Matt will start at NCBE in October. Among other things, he brings a wealth of hands-on bar administration and grader-training experience.

I’m going to use the eclipse as an auspicious sign, and I hope you will, too.

Until the next issue,

Signature of Judith A. Gundersen

Judith A. Gundersen

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