Let me begin by saying that I am not a fan of the uniform bar exam (“UBE”). There was a time when the uniqueness of New York (and most other states for that matter) truly meant something. That, of course, included being a New York attorney.
Now we’re moving to join 15 other states in the march toward the nationalization of the bar exam. When was the last time anything being nationalized worked out for the better? The founding of this country was premised upon the unique and differing qualities of the various states.
Here in New York, as in most other states, we have specific laws, rules, and ways of practicing law. There may be some practice areas that translate well across state lines. One that comes to mind is criminal law, due to its interaction with constitutional law. Even criminal law has state specific procedural rules. Think about how different New York’s Family and Domestic Relations Laws are, not to mention our General Municipal Law and our civil procedures. The most significant distinction is probably our evidentiary rules. Despite this, New York is moving to the UBE next summer.
Some of the reasons given for the adoption of the UBE are: 1) handling matters across state lines (our firm has been doing this for years already), 2) that we live in a more mobile and interconnected society, and 3) economically, it will help newly minted lawyers to find work.
Law schools, both here and in other states, care about the bar pass rate for their students. In the past they have geared a good portion of the curriculum to readying students to take and pass the New York bar exam. As a result, young lawyers have a proper foundation in New York practice. I fear that this will no longer be the case once the UBE goes into effect. In answer to this, the New York State Bar has indicated that perhaps providing additional training for new lawyers would remedy this shortcoming. When I heard this, I had to ask myself, isn’t that what law school is for? I don’t see how pushing this off to firms or post bar exam training helps from an economic standpoint.
As it stands, we have 15 law schools in New York State, and each year, approximately 15,000 people take the New York State Bar Exam. Opening the doors by way of the UBE will, in my estimation, make it more difficult for young lawyers desirous of staying and practicing in their home state from accomplishing this goal. In all likelihood, it will increase the number of out-of-state applicants for admission to the New York State Bar. It may make it easier for New York State law school graduates to move out of state to one of the other 15 states. How does this help New Yorkers? I don’t think that it does. What we will end up with are young lawyers who know less about state specific practice areas, which will prove to be a disservice to their employers and their clients alike.