The National Conference of Bar Examiners: Time to Shut This Clown Show Down
The National Conference of Bar Examiners (“NCBEX”) reached a new low last week in a desperate attempt to demonstrate its relevance and, perhaps, salvage its existence. The body that oversees nationwide administration of the exam reported the results of a recently commissioned poll of the general public finding that most people believe would-be attorneys should be required to take the test even during the pandemic. The query was never meant to be objective and was clearly drafted to achieve this result. It was posed to people the vast majority of whom have little or no understanding of the mechanics of legal licensing and no vested interest in the issues that have arisen in the administration of this year’s test. Nonetheless, the result has been touted triumphantly by NCBEX as if it conclusively proves that the bar exam is absolutely essential. In fact, the poll is a remarkably clumsy, thinly-veiled propaganda ploy that has only further proven that NCBEX needs to go.
It is difficult to overstate the sheer inanity of the poll and its results. First, NCBEX obviously deliberately avoided surveying attorneys, i.e. those best positioned to assay the efficacy of the bar exam as a barometer of minimal professional competence. The conference was clearly concerned that polling the members of the self-governing profession would not generate the desired result. So it found a more pliable set of subjects less likely to scrutinize the question for implicit bias. This methodology not only discredits the legitimacy of the findings but evinces a genuine concern within NCBEX that those best positioned to opine on the merits of the bar exam would not react favorably. It’s a tacit acknowledgement by the board of its waning relevance within the industry.
Second, it’s manipulative and, from an industry standpoint, counterproductive. People already don’t trust lawyers and would presumably not appreciate being used as pawns by a self-interested industry regulatory body acting under the guise of protecting the public. Consumers rely on licensing authorities to assure that professionals are qualified and competent. They’re not interested in mechanics or specific methodologies but want to be able to safely assume that anyone with a professional license meets minimum requirements. When regulators use ploys to push their own agendas — especially when handled as maladroitly as the NCBEX poll — it justifiably undermines public confidence in the entire system.
Third, it reeks of the desperation and incompetence that have come to define NCBEX. There are still thousands of bar applicants in limbo because the conference and state Boards of Law Examiners have so grossly mismanaged the 2020 licensure process. On its website post about the poll results, NCBEX concluded: “[Sixty percent] of respondents support a supervised in-person bar exam with masks, social distancing, and compliance with all other local health guidelines during the pandemic.” But the bar still hasn’t been given in many states and others have switched to unreliable online providers. In other words, NCBEX is advocating for a still-unavailable alternative that it failed to produce. Instead of working diligently to address the issues that have prevented safely administering the test in person (or finding work-arounds for these unique circumstances), NCBEX has opted to try to earn its continued place in the industry with an ill-advised public relations campaign. The message — a live bar exam is a vital even if we can’t come up with a way of giving it— is hardly convincing. This is what constitutes advocacy by the body responsible for overseeing the admission of a new crop of advocates?
The relevance of NCBEX in the licensing process was already in question given the failure of its essential purpose (administering the bar) followed by grossly inappropriate threats of retaliation against detractors. The poll — a barely-disguised, ill-timed, self-serving propaganda piece— clearly evinces an agency that is little more than a clown show. Trying to ensure its bureaucratic standing by publishing the results of a skewed poll, pretending those findings are legitimate, and using them to influence future licensing procedures are clear conflicts-of-interest. The legal industry is desperately in need of reform, and that will require the participation and contributions of serious players. It’s clear NCBEX has nothing to offer.