Despite opposition from many lawyers and bar associations throughout the state, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman announced today that New York State will begin administering the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) beginning in July of 2016.
According to this article, Lippman made the announcement at a Law Day celebration in Albany, claiming that the adoption of the UBE will allow New York to remain the gold standard for the profession, and stating that it will allow New York law graduates greater portability and flexibility of their law licenses.
The article goes on to say that Chief Judge Lippman argued that the new examination will "be more comprehensive in testing state-specific knowledge." This is difficult to comprehend, as the existing New York State Bar Examination, written by lawyers in New York State, includes New York State-specific essay questions, as well as New York multiple choice questions. By contrast, the new examination will include only essays testing general legal knowledge (not specific to New York State, nor written by New York laweyrs), but will retain the 50 New York multiple choice questions.
Interestingly, the article also indicates that the new exam "will also include a separate, New York-specific online course, which will include videotaped lectures." This is particularly interesting since New York State currently does not permit continuing legal education credits for young lawyers (those admitted less than two years) to be taken online or by video or audio recordings - all credits must be taken live. Although I haven't seen details of what the new "online course" will entail, it seems odd that this would be an accepted method by which lawyers will now learn New York State-specific law prior to admission to the bar, and that, having taken this online course, lawyers would not be tested on their proficiency in what is taught in those courses.
Additionally, while the claim is that adoption of the UBE will allow for greater "portability" of a New York law license, the fact remains that only 14 other states thus far have adopted the UBE, and none of the largest states are among them. While proponents of the UBE may surmise that other states will follow New York's lead, there is no guarantee that this will occur. Meanwhile, lawyers who wish to enter New York's legal market from foreign jurisdictions will have an easier time competing with New York educated lawyers for desirable New York jobs - arguably with very limited knowledge of the quirks of New York law, including the CPLR.
It is difficult to reconcile the claims that the UBE was instituted in part as a reaction to the fact that "employment prospects are still grim" for recent New York law graduates (a Lippman quote from this New York Times article) with the inevitable fact that adopting the UBE will increase the competition for New York legal jobs. New York educated lawyers who pass the UBE may find it easier to transfer their licenses to states like Alabama, Kansas, Idaho, Utah, North Dakota and Montana (all of whom have adopted the UBE), but with the crippling debt faced by many law graduates today, will the ability to move to these states be a real economic benefit?
And what impact will the lack of New York educated lawyers or lawyers with little knowledge of New York law have on the representation of clients?