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Ex poste facto: The case for the UBE from a recent bar taker

Chris Jennison
Chris Jennison (left) talks with Morgan Nelson and Josephine Bahn at the 2016 ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

After three years of law school, ten weeks of bar prep and two grueling days in the Baltimore Convention Center, I was relieved – to have the bar behind me (for now, at least- fingers crossed!). But the next emotion was one of frustration.

Not at how I did, because I felt like most of my peers had – that I had prepped as hard as I could have, that I left it all out on the table, that I didn’t bomb the exam but who knows if I passed. No, the frustration instead comes from the fact that my state isn’t a Uniform Bar Exam state.

You see, I’m a bit of a squeaky wheel about how the Uniform Bar Exam makes common sense. Its state-tailored approach – allowing states to maintain character and fitness decisions, set their own passing scores, add a state specific test or class, and grade within the state – combined with portability for recent law grads in 25 jurisdictions, makes too much sense. Meanwhile, the rehashed criticism is that the UBE doesn’t test state subject areas (which can be addressed through a state specific component) or doesn’t test nuances of law (which is solved through the Rules of Professional Conduct, requiring sufficiency of knowledge for adequate representation, as well as through CLEs). Moreover, many in practice have to look up nuances or intricacies of law, be they specific statutes of limitations or filing deadlines or anywhere in between.

But enough of the same debate – my frustration is as a May law grad, a June bar sitter, who won’t know the results of the exam until November.

Last year, I reached out to the law examiners in my state to ask if they had considered adopting the UBE. Their response? “Yes, though the civil procedure in our state is so drastically different that we need to ensure adequate knowledge in that area, which we can’t do through the UBE.”

Well, as I write this, I’m less than one week removed from the exam, and I’ve blocked out the state civil procedure rules with the same intensity with which I crammed them in. Did that help me learn these rules? No. Will I look them up when I need to in order to adequately, competently and zealously advocate for clients? Absolutely.

I also, like many of my peers, used a bar prep course. The course didn’t teach me state nuances, other than 30 or so minutes about each topic after hours of lectures on the common law and approaches. The course had me drill thousands of MBE, common law questions, but I’d say I spent less than a third of the structured bar prep course focusing on state specific essays, and even less time on the state specific essays that tested substantively unique law.

So, to any one out there wavering about the Uniform Bar Exam, I encourage you one last time, now as someone who has sat for the bar- don’t use the same excuses for why the UBE won’t or can’t work in your state, but instead think creatively about how to apply the exam to your state for the benefit and betterment of law students.

Christopher Jennison Chris Jennison is a graduate of Syracuse University's College of Law from Silver Spring, Maryland. He previously served as the Second Circuit Governor of the Law Student Division and just finished his term as the law student member of the ABA's Board of Governors for 2015-2016. Christopher received a Master's in Public Administration from the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government (2014) and a B.A. with honors from Syracuse University in Public Relations and Public Policy (2012). He is currently an extern with Judge Mary Ellen Coster Williams of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.