“New” Bar Exam Still On Track For 2026

A 5-year overhaul of the bar exam is gaining momentum, with officials now close to detailing the legal knowledge and skills that the new attorney licensing test will assess.

The National Conference of Bar Examiners said it plans to develop prototype questions by the end of this year and begin pilot testing what it has dubbed the “Next Gen Bar Exam” in 2026.

The Conference has said it will place more emphasis on legal skills and rely less on the memorization of law. Officials said they would end the current exam’s 3 separate components—the Multistate Bar Exam, the Multistate Essay Exam, and the Multistate Performance Test—in favor of an exam that better integrates knowledge and skills.

The revised test will not include questions on family law; estates and trusts, the Uniform Commercial Code; and conflict of laws. It will test aspiring attorneys in 7 skills areas, including client counseling and advising; client relationships and management; legal research; legal writing; and negotiations.

But the Conference is still in the process of determining how to assess examinees on those legal skills. They previously stated that simulating a client counseling session is not feasible when testing thousands of new lawyers at once. The bar exam will remain a one-time test given after law school, though National Conference President Judith Gundersen said it is not yet clear whether it will still be 2 days long.

The new exam might provide test takers with background material about a conflict and then ask them to identify the points they would stress during a negotiation, said exam redesign volunteer and retired Ohio State law professor Deborah Jones Merritt. She said the new exam will recognize that lawyers often use reference materials rather than rely on memorized doctrinal law.

Many in the legal field are skeptical of the new approach, as well as the timeline being discussed to roll out the new exam.

We will of course keep you updated as new developments about the “new” bar exam are announced.

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