The bar exam has been a
rite of passage barrier to entry for lawyers in America since the late 1800s. After more than 130 years of forcing would-be lawyers to go through months of intense study of laws they’ll never need to know in actual practice, the bar exam will finally be changing — four years from now.
The National Conference of Bar Examiners recently announced that pilot testing for the “Next Gen Bar Exam” will begin sometime in 2026. The new and improved test will do away with the Multistate Bar Exam, the Multistate Essay Exam, and the Multistate Performance Test to focus on — gasp! — knowledge and skills rather than rote memorization. For a profession that continually clings to tired traditions, this is truly shocking news.
The NCBE provided the details on the NextGen exam during the Association of American Law Schools’ annual meeting last week. Reuters has the scoop:
The revamped test won’t include questions on family law; estates and trusts, the Uniform Commercial Code; and conflict of laws. It will test aspiring attorneys in seven skills areas, including client counseling and advising; client relationships and management; legal research; legal writing; and negotiations. …
The new exam might provide test takers with foundational material about a deal and then ask them to identify the points they would stress during a negotiation, said exam redesign volunteer Deborah Jones Merritt at Thursday’s meeting. Or it could provide a transcript of a client counseling session and ask examinees to assess the lawyer’s performance, she said.
The new exam will also better balance litigation and transactional skills and recognize that lawyers often use reference materials rather than rely on memorized doctrinal law….
“I hope that the NextGen exam will be part of a larger movement away from memorization in legal education,” said Merritt, who has for years championed change for what she’s referred to as the “broken bar exam.”
Although the test will be changing, NCBE president Judith Gundersen said it’s not clear whether law graduates will need to dedicate two days of their lives to the exam. It’s also not clear how they’ll actually be tested on the legal skills the exam seeks to assess, but the NCBE has a few years to figure that out.
Will future lawyers be able to forever bid adieu to Scantron sheet hell and insane hypotheticals to be tested on skills that are actually related to being a lawyer? We suppose we’ll find out in 2026.
Staci Zaretsky is a senior editor at Above the Law, where she’s worked since 2011. She’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to email her with any tips, questions, comments, or critiques. You can follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.