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Michigan opts for universal bar exam as states shun patchwork tests

2 minute read

REUTERS/Annegret Hilse

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  • Michigan's top court followed other states in adopting the Uniform Bar Exam
  • One justice expressed concern over eliminating the state-specific portion of the exam

(Reuters) - Michigan is poised to begin using the Uniform Bar Exam in July 2022 following a ruling by the state's highest court, making it the 41st jurisdiction to adopt the universal test.

That change will allow Michigan test takers to transfer their scores for admission in other UBE jurisdictions without having to retake the bar exam. It will eliminate the existing essay portion of Michigan's test, which focuses on state law and accounts for half of an examinee's overall score.

Pennsylvania made the same decision in February and will also give the UBE for the first time in July. Texas administered its first UBE this February, while both Indiana and Oklahoma gave their inaugural UBEs in July. While exam scores are transferable, each UBE jurisdiction sets its own cut score for passage.

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“This change seeks to ensure a standard level of competency for lawyers across the country, allows for score portability, and makes the practice of law more accessible to law school graduates facing employment challenges and rising debt,” wrote Michigan Supreme Court Justice Megan Cavanagh in an Oct. 13 order.

Michigan lawmakers still must approve a series of measures to implement the UBE in the state, including setting the fee for test takers.

Not every justice agreed that Michigan should jettison the state-law specific portion of its bar exam. Writing in dissent, Justice Richard Bernstein said the Michigan law exam section protects both new attorneys and the public. Bernstein also expressed skepticism that the UBE’s time-constrained Multistate Performance Test could “meaningfully assess an applicant’s ability to practice.” The Multistate Performance Test requires examinees to draft a memo, brief, or other legal document based on a provided set of legal materials.

The two-day UBE, which is developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, debuted in 2011. In addition to the Multistate Performance Test, it consists of the Multistate Bar Exam, which is 200 multiple-choice questions, and the Multistate Essay Exam.

Several major states have yet to join the UBE wave, including California, Florida and Virginia.

(Note: This story has been updated to include the role of Michigan lawmakers in implementing the UBE.)

Read more:

NYSBA urges state to drop uniform bar exam for localized test

Report outlines benefits - and limits - of heavy bar exam prep

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Karen Sloan reports on law firms, law schools, and the business of law. Reach her at karen.sloan@thomsonreuters.com

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