The searing events of 2020 have had a permanent impact on how lawyers gain admission to the practice of law.
The pandemic threw the American bar exam system into deep turmoil, and aspiring lawyers paid the heaviest price in countless mental health crises. Across North America, third-year law students faced the end of their legal education on laptops in lockdown, while newly admitted lawyers found an empty landscape where new employment opportunities had once appeared.
But even as the old system was shaken to the core in 2020-21, new doors began to open and new paths forward began to reveal themselves.
- The National Conference of Bar Examiners released a task force report that unveiled a new model for its bar admission examination.
- The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System produced its own landmark report into lawyer admission.
- The Canadian “Practice Readiness Education Program” generated overwhelmingly positive results in its first full year of operation.
A genuinely new era is underway in establishing the competence of new lawyers to enter the legal profession and serve clients. But there is much more still to be done.
Bar admission authorities are under great pressure to accelerate recent innovations and respond to a rising chorus of stakeholder interests. Collaborative relationships must be forged with law schools at one end of the new lawyer pipeline and regulators and law firms at the other.
Above all, the voice of the public interest is being heard more loudly and clearly than ever before. Clients demand lawyers who are “competent” in far more than simply black-letter knowledge of the law. They want proof that new lawyers are also effective and proficient in:
- serving clients professionally,
- providing services affordably,
- maintaining ethical standards,
- using the latest technology, and
- operating a sound legal business
Balancing all these interests while striving to achieve their mandate of advancing the public interest, bar admission authorities need a strategic overview of how the legal world is changing, and guidance for how they can change along with it.
- advisory relationships on monthly retainers, within which I counsel bar admission leaders on the key issues that they encounter on an everyday basis; and
- one-time special events such as a strategic planning retreat, a presentation about the future, or a white paper setting out options and visions for the road ahead.