As I’ve often blogged, the VERY FIRST RULE in the Rules of Professional Conduct requires lawyers to provide clients with competent representation. For good or bad, the profession’s initial measure of competence is the bar exam.
Today, just over 70 applicants for admission to the bar of the Vermont Supreme Court will gather in a conference room at the Burlington Hilton and sit for the Vermont administration of the Uniform Bar Exam.
Vermont adopted the Uniform Bar Exam (“UBE”) in 2016. Many of you might not know what it entails. So, to mark the day, here’s a revised version of a blog that I posted in February 2017.
In February 2016, the Vermont Supreme Court adopted new Rules of Admission. The rules went into effect on April 18, 2016. Among the most significant changes:
- adopting the Uniform Bar Exam
- eliminating the so-called “clerkship”
- requiring successful examinees to complete Vermont-specific CLE and a “mentorship”
The Uniform Bar Exam
Vermont administers the Uniform Bar Exam (“UBE”). What’s that mean? Most notably, it means that there are no Vermont-specific essays.
For many of you, the bar exam included 6 essay questions drafted by the Board of Bar Examiners that tested Vermont law. No more. Now, the Vermont exam is, well, uniform. That is, an examinee who sits in Vermont takes the exact same exam as an examinee who sits in one of the 25 other UBE jurisdictions.
Essays have not disappeared altogether. It’s just that the essay questions are the same in each UBE jurisdiction.
On the morning of Day 1, examinees take the Multistate Performance Test. The MPT is best described HERE.
On the afternoon of Day 1, examinees take the Multistate Essay Examination. The MEE is best described HERE.
MPT and MEE questions are drafted by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. (“NCBE”). Answers, however, are graded by members of Vermont’s Board of Bar Examiners.
In another twist for those of you who, umm, are the opposite of “new” timers, over 90% of the examinees who sit today will take the MPT and MEE via laptop. Each examinee brings his or her own laptop. Each examinee will have downloaded softwared that (1) stores and uploads their essay answers directly to the NCBE; and, (2) blocks access to all other software & application on the laptop. The NCBE prints the answers and sends them Andy Strauss, Vermont’s licensing attorney, for distrubution to the graders. As a former grader, I assure you that this is a good development.
Day 2 of the exam should be familiar to all: the Multistate Bar Examination. You probably know it better as “the multiple choice.”
Scoring has changed a bit as well. Over the past several years, examinees received an MBE score and an essay score. To pass, an examinee had to score at least 135 on both the MBE and the essay. The overall total did not matter. Thus, an examinee who scored 135 on the MBE and a 135 on the essay passed, but an examinee who scored 170 on the MBE and 134 on the essay did not.
Now, examinees receive a UBE score that is a single number. Members of the Board of Bar Examiners grade the written portions (MPT & MEE) and report the “raw scores”to the NCBE. The NCBE scales an applicant’ raw scores on the written portions to the applicant’s score on the multiple choice (MBE). Then, the NCBE calculates an applicant’s UBE score that is:
The NCBE reports scores back to each jurisdiction.
Each jurisdiction is allowed to set its own passing score. In the parlance, a passing score is referred to as a jurisdiction’s “cut score.” Vermont’s cut score is 270. If an applicant to the Vermont bar scores 270 or higher, the applicant’s application is forwarded to the Character & Fitness Committee for review.
UBE scores are portable. In other words, a score is good in every UBE jurisdiction. Like all UBE jurisdictions, Vermont allows examinees to apply for “admission by transferred UBE score.” For example, New Hampshire is a UBE jurisdiction. Odds are that someone who is taking today’s exam in New Hampshire will apply for admission in Vermont. As long as the person scores at least a 270, the person is eligible for admission in Vermont, even having taken the exam in New Hampshire.
Important! Achieving a 270 in another jurisdiction is NOT an automatic ticket into the Vermont bar. Applicants who score at least 270 in another UBE jurisdiction must still go through Vermont’s Character & Fitness review.
Elimination of the Clerkship
Many of you remember the “3-month clerkship.” Some of you might remember the clerkship. For some, it was 3 months. For others, 6. Each was a pre-admission requirement. Each has been eliminated.
CLE & Mentorship
The clerkship has been replaced by post-admission CLE and mentorship requirements.
An applicant is admitted to the Vermont bar upon passing the Uniform Bar Examination, passing the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination, and being approved by the Character & Fitness Committee. Then, the applicant has 1 year to:
- complete 15 hours (at least 6 of which must be “live”) of continuing legal education in Vermont practice & procedure that has been approved by the Continuing Legal Education Board and certified by the Board of Bar Examiners; and,
- complete a mentorship.
Failure to complete the CLE or mentorship results in an administrative suspension that can only be cured by completion.
The current list of approved CLE courses is HERE. An outline of the mentorship program is HERE.
So, that’s how the bar exam works.