WBASNY’s Comments on the Uniform Bar Exam

WBASNY’s Comments on the Uniform Bar Exam

Dear Ms. Bosse:

I am the President of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York (WBASNY).  Our organization is the second largest State Bar in New York State, consisting of 4072 members in 18 statewide chapters.  Our members are private practitioners, state and federal judges, state and federal government  and court counsel, public interest attorneys, and law school professors.

We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on this very important issue.  All 18 chapters of WBASNY were asked to review and respond to the officers regarding your request.  As you will see from our feedback below, WBASNY has many concerns about the implementation of a Uniform Bar Exam in New York:

  1. The UBE proposal does not have any provisions for attorneys who have taken the New York State Bar prior to 2015.  Specifically, what happens to attorneys who have been practicing 20 years or 25 years or more?  Shouldn’t they be allowed to practice in other states without taking the UBE?
  2. The UBE passing grade should be the same in all states.
  3. The grades should be good for five (5) years or more; not three (3) years as most states that allow reciprocity required five (5) years of good standing in a state bar.
  4. The UBE proposal includes a New York State law component. The concern is that this component be intensive and sufficient so that the New York State component is not “watered down”.
  5. A more standard exam will make lawyers more “portable” in to the New York legal system.  If the exam becomes easier, then it might make it harder to get a job here as more lawyers flock to New York because it will be easier for attorneys who are not familiar with New York law to practice here.
  6. The UBE could negatively impact New York law schools, particularly those whose programs focus on New York practice and training for the NY bar exam.
  7. The UBE will reduce the prestige of having passed the New York State Bar Exam and being a licensed New York State attorney.
  8. The UBE appears to make it much easier to pass the New York Bar Exam.  However, the NY Bar Exam is one of the toughest exams for a reason: it is a large state, with large cities, and a complex, unique CPLR.  Lawyers who practice here should KNOW New York practice, not just to be able to pass only 30 out of 50 state-specific questions.
  9. There could be significant implementation problems.  The current proposal suggest and implementation date of July 2015. The proposal could significantly impact New York law school curriculum without providing those schools time to implement curriculum changes. Further, current law students have chosen their schools and their courses based upon an expectation of having to take the current NY bar exam.
  10. Which states participate in the UBE?  What is the passage rate in those states?  What is the incentive for New York to follow them (other than portability and standardization)? Why is New York interested in standardizing?
  11. Overall, the proposal appears: to dilute the importance of learning New York State law (30 questions is hardly enough); to promote a one-size-fits-all Bar Exam (which could diminish their profession generally); and to reduce the significance of passing the NYS Bar, one of the most rigorous in the United States, and internationally known as such. Further, New York already has reciprocity with other states where an attorney may waive in following the satisfaction of certain criteria.

On behalf of WBASNY, I thank you for the opportunity to comment on this very significant proposal. As you can see, our members are very concerned about how such a change would be implemented, and whether it is necessary at all.  As always, we welcome the opportunity to discuss this further with Chief Judge Lippman and the Office of Court Administration.

Very truly yours,

Irene V. Villacci