What began less than a decade ago as an agreement between two states—the Uniform Bar Examination, or UBE—has now quickly morphed into a movement encompassing 36 states and two territories. The rapid expansion, some observers say, is now opening a door for state and local bars to solve one of their most vexing challenges: finding and cultivating new members.
Indeed, it seems evident that the UBE has an immediate, direct effect on membership numbers for mandatory bars, perhaps especially in jurisdictions where lawyers find it desirable to have an additional license. For example, according to statistics from the National Conference of Bar Examiners' publication The Bar Examiner, in 2018, the mandatory D.C. Bar gained 431 new members who were admitted via transferred UBE score.
Even for voluntary bars, for which new admittees do not necessarily mean new members, the UBE may present some opportunities to reach out and market themselves to additional pools of prospective members. This could be especially helpful for those in smaller or more sparsely populated states, allowing these bars to broaden beyond their resident lawyer population.
The UBE, many say, is part of the latest in a string of evolutionary changes in the legal profession that signal a shift in the training and education of new lawyers. It’s an evolution that looks likely to continue, as more states move toward accepting the UBE. At the same time, the National Conference of Bar Examiners, which coordinates the UBE, is one of several organizations looking at continued changes to the exam and the concept of testing, and how it fits in with the overall mission of ensuring that new lawyers are ready to practice law—wherever they choose to practice.
“I think bar associations can be helpful in providing a forum for law students to talk about issues [such as] where they want to sit for the exam,” says Marilyn Wellington, executive director of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners, and a former executive director of the Massachusetts Bar Association. “All of these changes might give bar associations more of an opportunity to reach out and provide services.”
And it’s involvement that bars can seek right from the beginning, says retired Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Rebecca Berch. “State bar associations should welcome the flexibility and mobility that the UBE provides,” she says. “State bars should also care about the quality of the exam.”