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Lippman ushers in new era of lawyer licensing

New York is first large state to offer UBE


New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman speaks during a Law Day event at the Court of Appeals on Tuesday in Albany. AP Images

New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman speaks during a Law Day event at the Court of Appeals on Tuesday in Albany. AP Images

The uniform bar examination will be fully adopted by New York state, beginning with the July 2016 test, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced today.

“New York’s carefully considered decision to adopt the UBE is a huge step towards a national, uniform bar exam for the entire country,” Lippman told a packed Court of Appeals Hall during his annual Law Day address in Albany. “A nationally administered UBE is not only desirable but necessary for the mobile, interconnected society in which we live.”

He called New York the legal center of the United States, if not the world, noting those who pass the uniform bar exam will have a portable score that can be used to gain bar admission in any other state also offering the uniform bar exam, something that he said is now crucial for prospective bar applicants.

“We live in a world where it is common for lawyers to switch jobs multiple times throughout their careers and relocate to different states,” Judge Lippman said. “The UBE makes it easier to become licensed and employed in a new jurisdiction. And lawyers who can more easily become licensed in multiple states are a tremendous asset.”

The uniform bar exam, offered in 15 states so far, is developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and consists of the Multistate Bar Examination, a 200-question multiple choice test; two Multistate Performance Test tasks designed to measure fundamental lawyering skills; and the six essay Multistate Essay Examination.

New York already incorporates the Multistate Bar Examination and one of the Multistate Performance Test tasks in its examination process. With the adoption of the uniform bar exam, candidates for admission to the New York bar will also have to pass a separate New York component, which will consist of an online course and online multiple choice test, which Judge Lippman said will ensure the integrity of the state’s licensing structure.

The New York component, the New York Law Exam, will be developed by the New York State Board of Law Examiners, which will also continue to grade the written components of the uniform bar exam.

The online course will consist of hours of videotaped lectures on New York state-specific law. Judge Lippman said the test will be thorough and rigorous. The test will be offered during the February and July administrations of the bar exam, as well as in May and December. Applicants may take it during their third year of law school, giving them increased flexibility with schedules.

Judge Lippman said in many ways the new test will be more comprehensive in testing state-specific knowledge. The current multistate and New York portions of the state bar exam are included in one score, so someone who does poorly on the New York portion can still be admitted if they do well on the multistate portion. With the new system, the candidate will have to pass the uniform bar exam, which he said has significant overlap with New York law, and complete the New York component which will cover areas of New York law not encompassed by the uniform bar exam.

“With its adoption of the UBE, New York will be by far the largest state and the greatest number of bar applicants in the group,” Judge Lippman said, noting 15,200 people from the around the world took the New York state bar exam in 2013, more than any other state. “We very much expect that New York’s adoption of the uniform bar exam will reverberate among the other states and that the UBE will become the standard throughout the country.”

Adopting the uniform bar exam is recommended by the Advisory Committee on the Uniform Bar Exam, which Judge Lippman commissioned last fall to study the proposal of the state Board of Law Examiners and make recommendations. The committee conducted hearings throughout the state, including on Feb. 26 in Rochester; and held several smaller informal meetings with stakeholders, which included conversations with people in Buffalo and Syracuse.

A copy of the report, issued Tuesday, is available at Its recommendations have been approved by the Court of Appeals.

“The committee believes this new paradigm in New York licensing will fairly assess competency, protect clients, adapt to the geographic and economic realities of 21st century practice and enhance candidate proficiency in New York,” the report states.

The committee considered, but found unsubstantiated, the concerns of several stakeholders, including the New York State Bar Association, that adopting the uniform bar exam could tarnish the perceived New York “gold standard” for legal education.

“The committee strongly agrees that New York’s professional bar enjoys and deserves a national reputation for excellence,” the report states. “That status is a factor of the quality of its practicing attorneys and the historic stature of its judiciary — and has little to do with passing a two-day bar exam. In sum, the committee believes that New York’s ‘gold standard’ reputation results not from the difficulty of the bar exam, but from the rigorous demands of practice in New York state.”

The committee was chaired by Court of Appeals Judge Jenny Rivera and included Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti; Hannah Arterian and Michelle Anderson, deans of Syracuse University College of Law and City University of New York School of Law, respectively; Diane Bosse, chair of the state Board of Law Examiners; Nitza Escalera, assistant dean of student affairs, Fordham University School of Law; and former presidents of the state, New York City and Puerto Rican bar associations: Seymour James, E. Leo Milonas and David Hernandez.

Judge Lippman said the impact of the change on the state’s diverse applicant pool is of great interest and data will be collected and studied over a three-year period after the uniform bar exam is implemented to gauge if there are significant adverse impacts among people of color and women and how to address them.

“With the adoption of the UBE, New York will remain the gold standard of the legal profession because rather than being insular, we are embracing a broad vision for the future of our profession,” Judge Lippman said. “With the adoption of the UBE and our commitment to a global profession, people will more than ever want the credential of a license to practice law in New York. And once again, New York state will be the changemaker, shaping the legal profession nationally, dramatically altering the balance and leading the way to the adoption across the country of a rational, effective system for ensuring that new lawyers are eminently qualified to join our truly noble legal profession.”

State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and NYSBA President Glenn Lau-Kee talked about the 800-year history of “Magna Carta: Symbol of Freedom Under Law,” the 2015 national Law Day theme.

“The Magna Carta was truly a statement of transformational principles of justice, unlike any that ever came before,” said Schneiderman, noting more needs to be done to address mass incarceration and racial disparity while adhering to evidence-based practices shown to work in reducing crime and enhancing public safety.

Lau-Kee’s remarks included a call for strong and meaningful civics education, laws to make it easier to register to vote, and changes in the criminal justice system that will make it fairer and help prevent wrongful convictions.