More States Are Adopting The UBE, Giving Lawyers Greater Mobility

Two more states adopted the Uniform Bar Exam at the end of 2017, increasing the portability of a law degree.

North Carolina and Maryland both announced in Nov. 2017 the adoption of the UBE, becoming the latest to join 28 other jurisdictions that have implemented the exam. Massachusetts, which adopted the UBE in 2016, will administer the exam for the first time this July.

The UBE is a uniformly administered, graded and scored exam designed and administered by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. UBE scores are transferable to other UBE states, providing lawyers greater mobility across multiple jurisdictions.

Still, each state sets its own pass rate, and applicants must satisfy any additional requirements imposed by each jurisdiction, such as character and fitness investigations and a professional responsibility examination. States also have the power to limit how long a UBE score remains transferrable.

North Carolina will begin accepting transfer applications on June 30, 2018. UBE scores must be 270 or higher, and less than three years old. The first UBE exam will be administered February 2019.

The Maryland UBE will include a Maryland law supplement to the exam, becoming the tenth UBE jurisdiction to implement a local component. The Maryland Court of Appeals voted in November  to adopt the UBE, concluding that the “benefits of a uniform, portable, exam were significant and outweighed all disadvantages.”

“The Uniform Bar Examination, along with the Maryland law component, will assure that applicants possess the knowledge and skills necessary to practice law in Maryland, plus afford those who pass the exam the portability of transferring their results to other jurisdictions that have also adopted the Uniform Bar Examination,” said Mary Ellen Barbera, Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals.  

The Maryland State Board of Bar Examiners has not announced when it will begin accepting transfer applications, and an effective date is yet to be determined.

The UBE will also be administered for the first time this July in Massachusetts, which adopted the UBE in 2016. Like Maryland, the Massachusetts UBE will include a local component. 

“We hope that with the adoption of the UBE in Massachusetts and the ability to transfer scores to other UBE jurisdictions easily, our students will benefit from enhanced mobility and career opportunities,” Maureen O’Rourke, dean of Boston University School of Law, told Big Law Business.

UBE transfer applications will be accepted in Massachusetts beginning March 1, 2018. The required passing score is 270 and must be no more than three years old.

So far, 30 states have adopted the UBE. The exam is under consideration in other jurisdictions as well, including Tennessee and Ohio.

“Lawyers are more mobile than they once were. No longer do lawyers settle in one state and practice in that state until retirement,” said Jeffrey Ward, President of the Tennessee Board of Law Examiners. “Multi-jurisdictional, or cross-border, practice is more common, particularly in Tennessee, where we border more states than any other state in the Union. This can be seen in the increase in applications for admissions without examination in recent years.”

The UBE consists of three sections: the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), which includes 200 multiple choice questions; two Multistate Performance Test (MPT) tasks, which are 90-minute sections testing lawyering skills; and six Multistate Essay Examination (MEE) questions. Opponents of the UBE express concern that the exam does not test local laws and procedures, which can vary from state-to-state, especially in the areas of civil and criminal procedure, real estate and trusts and estates. 


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Tyler Roberts is an editor for The National Jurist. You can follow him on Twitter at @wtylerroberts