May 2–5, 2019 | Hyatt Regency | San Francisco, California
The NCBE Annual Bar Admissions Conference is an educational event designed for members of the bar examining and admissions community. Attendees include state Supreme Court justices, bar admission administrators, and members of boards of bar examiners, all of whom direct the bar admissions process in their jurisdictions. The Conference focuses on the issues that influence the licensing of lawyers both today and in the future.
NCBE held its 2019 Annual Bar Admissions Conference at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco on May 2–5. Fifty-four jurisdictions were represented by the 381 attendees, which included 98 first-time attendees and 39 state Supreme Court justices.
The Conference launched on Thursday evening with an opening reception and a judicial roundtable for the state Supreme Court justices in attendance. NCBE Board of Trustees Chair Michele A. Gavagni of Florida, NCBE President Judith A. Gundersen, and NCBE Education Committee Chair Suzanne K. Richards of Ohio welcomed attendees to the Conference on Friday and Saturday mornings, and Judy Perry Martinez, president-elect of the American Bar Association, addressed attendees on Saturday morning.
This year’s five thought-provoking and diverse plenary sessions spanned the topics of bar admissions, testing, legal education, and the legal profession—as well as access to justice, diversity, and wellness.
Cast of Characters: The Good, the Bad, and the …
Speakers: Mark Albanese, Ph.D.; Barry Currier; Camille deJorna; James Leipold
Experts presented data and opinions on law school applicant and enrollment numbers, the health of the law school market, the demographics of who is taking and passing the bar exam (or not), and trends of recent graduates moving into the legal employment marketplace.
Sparks! Sessions on Ideas and Innovations
These four dynamic, vibrant, fast-paced presentations covered the following topics:
- the Homeless Rights Advocacy Project at Seattle University School of Law’s Korematsu Center (Speaker: Sara Rankin)
- Mental Health First Aid, a national program that teaches people the skills to respond to the signs of mental illness and substance abuse in others (Speaker: Kristene Smith)
- gender and sexual orientation categories (Speaker: Josiah Evans, Ph.D.)
- an update on the transition to computer-based testing for the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (Speaker: Theresa Healy)
Cast of Characters: Who Are the Millennials and Generation Z?
Speakers: Gicine Brignola, Samuel Chang, Laura Graham
In the past few years, it has been common in popular culture to dismiss the ideas and priorities of the Millennial and Generation Z cohorts without acknowledging the strengths and viewpoints they bring to the table. Experienced professionals in this session spoke to the culture, communication styles, and impact of these two age groups.
The Price of Entry: Law School Enrollment, Costs, Tuition, and Bar Passage
Speakers: Kyle McEntee, Jerome Organ
Thought-provoking views and figures about the systems that support the profession—law school admissions, pricing structures, debt, and student retention—and the impact on bar passage rates and legal employment.
A View from the Courts
Speakers: Hon. Scott Bales, Hon. Paula Nakayama, Hon. Jenny Rivera
Three members of the courts shared their opinions and experiences of the world of bar admissions—covering diversity, access to justice, alternative legal service providers, and the question of whether a candidate’s behavior during the bar exam should be weighed as a character and fitness issue.
This year’s 14 stimulating and challenging breakout sessions included four workshops, which consisted of a hybrid of presentation and hands-on exercises.
Access to Justice
Access to Justice: Research and in Real Life
Speakers: Hon. Denise Owens, Rebecca Sandefur, Ph.D.
Current research on the justice gap, the connections between bar admissions and access to justice, and how these issues impact millions of individuals in the courtroom on a daily basis.
ADA Update: Are We Seeing Any Changes in the Landscape?
Speaker: Robert Burgoyne
Perspectives on the past year—including recent cases of interest to bar examiners and developments on the ADA regulatory and enforcement fronts.
The ADA in Practice: What We Are Observing in Law and Medicine
Speakers: Dwan Bovell, Brad Gilbert
A compare-and-contrast presentation of case studies and data that identify the trends in accommodations in law schools, on the MPRE, and in the field of internal medicine.
Communicating to and Through the Press (Workshop)
Speakers: Sophie Martin, Shela Shanks
How to build productive relationships with members of the press and how to craft messaging that honors obligations to confidentiality while communicating the value of the bar admissions process.
Character and Fitness
Using the Internet in Character and Fitness Investigations
Speaker: Keith Wilkinson
One jurisdiction’s methodology and techniques for navigating social networks and other online platforms to integrate social media research into its character and fitness investigation strategy.
Healthy from the Start: A Joint Venture of Bar Examiners and Lawyer Assistance Programs
Speakers: Barbara Bowe, Marilyn Wellington
This session shared a model—replicable, in whole or in part, in any jurisdiction—for a joint venture between bar examiners and Lawyer Assistance Programs, which both have the opportunity to reach out to law students to listen, educate, guide, and encourage participation in treatment and self-care so that they will be healthy from the start as they enter the practice of law.
Case Studies in Character and Fitness: A Hands-On Session (Workshop)
Speakers: Barbara D’Aquila, Emily Eschweiler
A lively, interactive workshop of character and fitness scenarios presented in video format with discussion and determinations.
Current Issues in Character and Fitness
Speakers: Link Christin, Hon. Thomas Durkin, Jill Thomas
A firsthand exploration of issues surrounding a jurisdiction’s adoption of conditional admission, how the #metoo movement has impacted law schools, and the latest information on the opioid epidemic in the legal profession.
The Big Ones: Emerging Challenges in Bar Admissions at Home and Abroad
Speakers: Paul Maharg, Alan Treleaven
Discussion leaders from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada focused on issues and trends for bar examiners and legal educators, discussing the validity of the traditional rearview-mirror approach to identifying essential competencies for new lawyers and whether we can equip new lawyers for the future by relying on past experiences.
A Different Lens: The Legal Services and Law School Innovation Indices
Speaker: Daniel Linna Jr.
This session revealed an alternative way to look at law schools and law firms—by tracking their level of innovation and technology adoption, which in turn improves access to legal services for all levels of consumers.
Beyond the Bachelor’s and Before the JD: What Undergraduates Think
Speakers: Jeff Allum, Judith Areen
Presentation of the findings from Before the JD: Undergraduate Views on Law School and Beyond the Bachelor’s: Undergraduate Perspectives on Graduate and Professional Degrees, which distill the factors that go into making the decision to pursue a J.D. or other advanced degree and how they will impact legal education and the profession.
Basic Testing Concepts for Bar Examiners
Speakers: Joanne Kane, Ph.D.; Andrew Mroch, Ph.D.
Foundations of measurement that every bar examiner should know—reliability, validity, equating, and scaling—and pitfalls to avoid.
Evaluating Communication in Writing and Why We Should Care (Workshop)
Speakers: Adisa Harrington, Sonja Olson
A hands-on, deeper exploration of evaluating communication in writing on the MEE and MPT: why the written components of the bar exam are so important to evaluating competency, what they test, foundations of effective grading, and considerations for ESL examinees.
Emerging Technologies in Cheating Detection and Prevention
Speakers: Rachel Schoenig, Jennifer Semko
Information about “next-level” technology that can be (and probably already is) used by examinees to cheat on and potentially profit from the bar exam.
Testing Task Force Focus Groups
Attendees at this year’s Annual Conference were invited to participate in one of two interactive discussions led by one of the NCBE Testing Task Force’s independent research consultants, during which they had the opportunity to share their ideas and opinions about the next generation of the bar exam and whether and how the bar exam should change. These focus groups were two of several conducted since early 2019 as part of Phase 1 of the Task Force’s three-phase study to ensure that the bar exam keeps pace with a rapidly changing legal profession. (For more about NCBE’s Testing Task Force, see this issue’s Quarterly Update.)