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Panel weighs Uniform Bar Examination expansion in Md.

As the legal profession gets more competitive for young attorneys and practices get more portable, the state’s legal community is weighing market demands with providing a bar exam that is fair to minorities.

The decision on whether to adopt more of the Uniform Bar Examination ultimately will be made by the Court of the Appeals. But a court-appointed advisory committee heard public testimony last week where attorneys representing a wide range of professional groups weighed on the proposal.

Among those in favor of adopting the UBE was Chris Jennison, a federal government lawyer and former board member of the American Bar Association’s Law Student Division. Jennison led a team that helped pass a resolution last year by the ABA House of Delegates urging all states to endorse the adoption of the UBE.

“I am a big believer in providing law students and recent law graduates with the ability to be successful in their first few years of practice through a common licensing scheme,” he said.

While the deans of both in-state law schools are on the committee, their counterparts at neighboring law schools backed the UBE.

“It should adopted nationwide, including in the state of Maryland as soon as possible,” said Renee DeVigne, dean of student academic development at the George Washington University Law School.

For former U.S. Sen. Joseph Tydings said adopting the UBE is vital to the legal profession.

“I’m concerned with our profession which is vital to the existence of our democracy,” he said. “Without attracting the best and keeping them at the University of Baltimore, University of Maryland and George Washington University, our democracy is weaker. The UBE seems to be so important to strengthening the bar, our law schools and democracy.”

While majority of the testimony leaned in favor of adopting the UBE, the Women’s Bar Association of Maryland and the Monumental City Bar Association raised concerns about the test’s impact on minorities, its lack of a professional responsibility essay section and its cost.

The Women’s Bar Association outlined four concerns: how the UBE is weighed compared to the current Maryland bar exam and its impact on minorities and overall passage rate; the cost of the UBE; implications of adding a Maryland-specific section to the UBE; and the lack of a professional responsibility essay section in the UBE.

“We think there are a lot of unanswered questions,” said Hope Tipton, a Baltimore City Circuit Court magistrate and vice president of the Women’s Bar Association.

Maryland-specific?

Many speakers at the hearing, as well those who submitted written testimony, raised the possibility of offering a Maryland-specific exam. Current test-takers in Maryland take a one-day, multiple choice exam, the Multistate Bar Examination, that is part of the UBE. The Court of Appeals is considering whether to adopt additional components of the UBE to either replace or supplement the traditional Maryland essay exam that is part of the state’s bar test.

The UBE is coordinated by the National Conference of Bar Examiners and is administered, graded and scored by the individual jurisdictions that have adopted the exam. Those who take the UBE can transfer their scores to any participating jurisdiction during a three-year period to seek admission. Currently, 26 states and D.C. have adopted the UBE in its entirety.

“In 1972, many thought it was not wise to create a standard multistate bar exam,” said University of Baltimore School of Law Professor Byron L. Warnken in written testimony. “Nonetheless it went forward and is now nearly a half-century old and operating smoothly. There is a national trend toward standardization, which we support.”

The Maryland State Bar Association has not taken a position on the UBE but individual sections presented both oral and written testimony. MSBA’s Young Lawyers Section was split: Its “older young” lawyers were opposed to adopting the UBE, while its “newer young” lawyers were in favor.

The “older young” lawyers argue “Maryland is too small,” section chairwoman E. Regine Francois wrote in her testimony. “The UBE would bring in too much competition from other states and would decrease the number of available attorney positions.”

The “newer young” lawyers, by contrast, argue adopting the UBE would help lower costs associated with the license procedure and the “transient culture of millennials,” Francois wrote.

The MSBA’s Legal Education and Admission to the Bar Section of the MSBA is in favor of the UBE.

“It will significantly enhance opportunities for law students in search of employment,” said Irnande Altema, the section’s chairwoman.

In a survey of the MSBA’s Litigation Section, 66 percent of respondents were in support of adopting the UBE. But only six percent of the section’s 15,000 attorneys responded to the survey, said Tracy L. Steedman, a member of Adelberg Rudow in Baltimore, who presented the results at the hearing.

The advisory committee, consisting of judges, attorneys and members of the State Board of Law Examiners, is chaired by Court of Appeals Judge Sally D. Adkins and will submit its recommendation to the high court by July.

“We gained insight,” Adkins said of Thursday’s hearing. “The breadth of our information is greater.”


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