3 ways legal education and the bar exam are changing

By Stephanie De Sola

The word "change" is rarely associated with the legal profession. In fact, the legal profession is founded on principles of stability and adherence to precedent. Yet, with the rise of new technologies, a generation of law students who grew up in the digital age, and a pandemic that has disrupted the status quo, legal education and practice are transforming.

Today, change and flexibility are staples of the legal profession, impacting how we study law, how we take the bar exam, and even how we practice as lawyers. The legal world is changing fast, and we need to find ways to keep up.

Changing How We Learn

The most recent generation to come of age, Gen Z, has unique learning needs and styles because  its members were raised in a world completely different from that of their professors. For instance, current law students have grown up with infinite information and answers being only a few clicks away, so they require different legal instruction than what was provided 20 years ago. It is imperative that educators incorporate technology into their courses so that they can understand and engage this generation of digital learners.

To ensure that Gen Z students are prepared for legal practice in the 21st century, professors must adapt their curriculum to provide more active learning approaches. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown some of the benefits of online legal learning, but it has also shown how some teaching methods are ineffective in a digital classroom. Posting a three-hour recording of a lecture is not enough to stimulate students who are used to, and expect, active engagement with the material they are being taught. Active learning plays a critical role in ensuring that Gen Z students learn, retain, and apply the knowledge and skills that they have gained from the classroom both on the bar exam and as attorneys.

Fortunately, online legal education has proven more affordable and accessible than many legal academics may have once assumed. Allowing law students the flexibility to access their classes from any location and at any time makes a world of difference for students trying to juggle a job, a family, and school. Better yet, these classes can be accessed from whatever device students have—whether it be a tablet, laptop, or phone.

Shifting How We Take the Bar Exam

Law students, lawyers, and legal academics have been critiquing the bar exam since the 1990s. However, proposals for reform fell flat until 2020, when the pandemic placed an extensive spotlight on the bar exam and the National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) decided it was time for a change.

Fortunately, these changes came swiftly, with the NCBE testing task force already indicating that computer-based remote bar exams will be our new future. The plan is for these exams to be administered at test centers or jurisdiction-managed sites to ensure fairness to applicants. However, these are not the only changes being implemented. The plan is for these exams to be delivered as an integrated test, with exam takers applying their legal knowledge to different scenarios, as opposed to sections with different formats — a substantial departure from bar exams of the past.

Practicing from a Distance

Gone are the days when you must be physically present at work or school to get the job done. Lawyers have not stopped working during the pandemic— they have simply adapted to new working conditions, with technology playing a leading role. In the last year, technology has shown that working or learning from home is not only possible but also genuinely helpful in surpassing our goals. Many lawyers (and clients) are interested in continuing some pandemic practice methods, such as remote video depositions and court hearings, long after the danger of the pandemic subsides.

Many lawyers have seen a myriad of advantages to working remotely, including increased productivity, less commuting stress, location independence, and money-saving opportunities. As we continue to see the benefits of online learning and working, we may be looking at a permanent change to the landscape of the legal profession.

As our profession continues to shift, we all must get on board with these changes. The faster we start adapting to what is coming, the quicker we will excel as students and lawyers.

 


After receiving her J.D. from St. Mary's University School of Law, Stephanie De Sola worked as an appellate attorney and provided legal assistance in all stages of civil and criminal litigation. She now serves as Bar Review Product Manager atUWorld, where she creates online test preparation resources.


 

 

 

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