The US National Conference of Bar Examiners holds consultation on exam content for the new bar entrance exams

The National Conference of Bar Examiners has sought the input of the US legal market as it continues its plans to implement a new bar entrance exam.

The new exam will place greater emphasis on essential lawyering skills while decreasing the number of legal subjects tested.

The proposed changes are the result of an effort to evaluate the national bar exam, which began in 2018. This public consultation, which closed on 18th April, followed a 3 year internal research period which itself came to a close in January 2021. The new bar exam is scheduled to start in 2026.

Read the full article here.

The California Bar adopts new five year strategic plan

The Board of Trustees of the California State Bar Board of Trustees has agreed a new five year plan, setting the Bar’s strategic direction until 2027.

The plan includes four strategic goals:

  • Protect the Public by Strengthening the Attorney Discipline System: Administer an attorney discipline system that is efficient, accountable, and transparent.
  • Protect the Public by Enhancing Access to, and Inclusion in, the Legal System: Increase access to the legal system through public outreach and education, improve access to legal advice and services, and a legal profession that reflects the diversity of California.
  • Protect the Public by Regulating the Legal Profession: Promote the ethical and competent practice of law and prevent misconduct by providing education, resources, and support for the legal profession.
  • Protect the Public by Engaging Partners: Engage partners and stakeholders to enhance public protection and restore the State Bar’s credibility, reputation, and impact.

Read the full story here.

Supporting the health and wellbeing of Black attorneys in Illinois

The Commission highlighted the long-held stigma of seeking help for mental health, as well as the daily microaggressions, the residual affects of intergenerational trauma and overt acts of racism as being unique stressors for Black attorneys.

Dr. Arline Geronimus coined the term “weathering effect” to evoke the emotional erosion that comes with the constant stress of racism. Geronimus,  a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health compares weathering to Jenga, with a stressor being the equivalent of pulling one block out at a time.

After some time, so many blocks that are essential to a person’s health and well-being have been removed leading the tower to  collapse. Research has shown that stress can lead to premature biological aging and  worse health outcomes for Black people than their White counterparts.

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State Bar of California’s consultation on new paraprofessional licence closes

The consultation, which closed on 12th January, focused on the potential licensing of a new legal service provider, the paraprofessional. It is hoped this new legal qualification will improve access to justice by creating a new professional to provide routine legal services at a more affordable rate.

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Arizona Supreme Court grants first ABS licence

Law company Elevate has been granted an Alternative Business Structure (ABS) license by the Arizona Supreme Court, making Elevate and its affiliated law firm, ElevateNext, a single entity.  This makes Elevate the first non-lawyer-owned law firm in the United States.

In 2020 Arizona became the first state to remove the prohibition of non-lawyers owning law firms after decades of ethnics rules across the country banning this practice.

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First generation lawyers find fewer jobs than peers

New data from the National Association of Law Placement, in the US, suggests first generation lawyers have a harder time securing a job than their peers. First generation US lawyers, who don’t have at least one parent with a bachelors degree find securing a job after graduation much harder than their peers a study has found. NALPs data also suggests this cohort is likely to earn less than their peers and less likely to secure high flying private practice jobs.

Moreover, first-generation students are often racial minorities, pointing to a diversity issue in the legal pipeline as these are less likely to get jobs at the top firms. “A higher percentage of graduates of color were reported as first-generation college students, and distressingly we continue to see that the lowest overall employment rates were measured for Black and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander law school graduates,” James Leipold, NALP’s Executive Director, said in a press release.

Read the full story here.

American Bar Association publishes new data on minorities and bar pass rates

New data published by the American Bar Association (ABA) Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, has suggested that White test-takers were more likely to pass the bar exam in 2020 than test-takers of other races and ethnicities.  Within the grouping of those who identified as White men and women, 88% passed the Bar examination the first time. By comparison, 66% of Black first-time test-takers passed, 76% of Hispanics, 78% of Hawaiians, 78% of Native Americans and 80% of Asians. The report, which was released on the 22nd of June, includes data from 2020 and 2021 aggregated from across all 197 ABA-accredited law schools, broken down into nine different ethnicity categories. 

Under ABA rules bar passage results influence the “ultimate” pass rate. This is a measure of success in the bar examinations over a two-year period. Under 2019 revisions to the bar passage rule known as Standard 316, ABA-approved law schools must have 75% of their graduates who take the bar examination pass it within two years of graduation or face the potential of being found out of compliance.

The ultimate pass rate was higher for all ethnic categories than the rate for first-time takers. For 2019 graduates, for instance, white law graduates posted a 91% ultimate pass rate, and rates for other categories ranged upward from 75% based on 2020 and 2021 data.

Bill Adams, ABA managing director of accreditation and legal education, said that “During discussions on changes to Standard 316 concerns were expressed over the lack of national data on bar passage by members of different racial and ethnic groups. We promised to collect and publish such aggregate data and consider whether the requirements of the standard needed to be reconsidered in light of what we collected,” he said. “This report is consistent with that promise and will be further evaluated in the months to come.”

Read the full report here

ABA President Patricia Lee Refo – “Lack of advancement is not a ‘woman’ problem, it’s a ‘profession’ problem”

In a new column for the American Bar Association (ABA) Journal, ABA President Patricia Lee Refo has called for a change in attitude towards the way in which gender is viewed in the profession. In the column, she describes how the lack of progression for women in the profession represents systemic issues in both the retention and promotion of female staff within the legal industry.

She goes on to describe some of the ABA’s work in the area, as well as calling for more to be done to increase the number of women working in the profession, as well as to assist those already employed within the profession. The article has been co-signed by the 9 other ABA presidents who were women.

Read the full article here. 

American Bar Association releases new report on the challenges faced by female lawyers

A newly released American Bar Association (ABA) report entitled, “In Their Own Words: Experienced Women Lawyers Explain Why They Are Leaving Their Law Firms and the Profession,” aims to shed light on factors that affect career decision making amongst experienced female lawyers.  This includes information on why practitioners choose to remain in practice, move to a different job within the law or step out of the profession altogether after 15 or more years of practice.

The report was written by Joyce Sterling, a professor at the Sturm College of Law in Denver, and Linda Chanow, executive director of the Center for Women in Law at the University of Texas. The report includes analysis on the components that advance or impede long-term careers for female lawyers. The research was carried out via focus groups in six cities across the USA, as well as through individual interviews, with comments made during the interviews including:

“You give me the hardest problems to solve, but you tell me I am less important with the compensation you give me.”

“I don’t feel like I have anyone in a position of power who can personally relate to me.”

“[T]he power dynamic is very real. . . [P]eople are very uncomfortable when women lean into their power.”

The report includes recommendations designed to increase retention of female attorneys which include:

  • Assess the impact of firm policies and practices on female lawyers.
  • Take steps to ensure there is a critical mass of female partners on key firm committees.
  • Increase lateral hiring of female partners.
  • Provide resources to relieve pressures from family obligations.
  • Be flexible to support changing practices.

ABA President Patricia Lee Refo has said.“This report highlights the ongoing systemic barriers women still face in the legal profession. These women’s personal stories are eye-opening, and the recommendations illustrate the changes we need to make to support and advance all female lawyers.”

Read the full report here, or read more here.

Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System releases guides to cut through bias in legal hiring and improve legal education outcomes

The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS), has released two new guides designed to explain innovative ways for legal educators and legal employers to implement data-driven, outcomes-based standards underpinned by IAALS’ Foundations for Practice research. The guides are based on  a survey of 24,000 lawyers and working sessions with 36 employers and 4 law schools and aim to provide law schools with a path to train better lawyers and employers a path to hire and retain the best lawyers.

Logan Cornett, IAALS Director of Research has said “The Foundations guides are a natural continuation of Foundations for Practice, launched in 2014. We conducted the largest study of its kind to identify the characteristics, competencies, and skills—what we call foundations—that new lawyers need to be successful. Now, as our country reckons with systemic racism, implicit bias, a shifting economy, and lack of access to justice, the Foundations data and tools provide new ways for the legal profession to rise to the occasion.”

By targeting both legal education and legal employment, Foundations aims to implement wholesale reform. The IAALS has identified what it sees as a cycle of tradition: teaching classes the way they always have been taught and hiring lawyers based on where they went to law school and their class rank. The empirical research of Foundations provides pathways for schools and law firms to evolve and better ensure the success for all new lawyers, but especially for those who are less advantaged because of race, gender, or socioeconomic background.

The Foundations Instructional Design Guide is for educators who want to improve their curriculum by designing and implementing learning outcomes and standards-based assessments. Through close review of course objectives, defining desired learning outcomes from students, and assessments.

The Foundations Hiring Guide is for employers who want to improve their hiring practices—to improve quality, retention, and diversity. Through close review of hiring criteria, designing objective ways to assess candidates for hire, and creating accountability measures.

Read more about the guides here, or access the instructional design guide, or the hiring guide.