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 Old bar exam or new one? States will have a choice in 2026
Category:International Legal News  
Subject:Legal profession   ; Lawyers   ; Professional services  
Publish Date:01-20-2023

An updated version of the bar exam is on track to debut in July 2026, but not all states are expected to use it right away.
Officials with the National Conference of Bar Examiners said this month that states will be able to choose between giving the new iteration of the attorney licensing exam or administering the existing one during a temporary transition period. After that, only the updated version, called the “NextGen Bar Exam,” will be available.
Offering two exams for a “limited period of time” will give states time to adjust, conference president Judith Gundersen told legal educators during the Association of American Law Schools' annual meeting.
The National Conference formally launched the development of the new test in early 2021 and said it will place more emphasis on legal skills and rely less on the memorization of doctrinal law—partially in response to criticism that the existing exam doesn't reflect the actual practice of law.
The new test will do away with the current exam's three separate components—the Multistate Bar Examination, the Multistate Essay Examination and the Multistate Performance Test—in favor of an exam designed to better integrate knowledge and skills.
The conference hasn't determined how long the current bar exam will continue to be offered, but Gundersen said it would be less than five years after the NextGen bar exam debuts. The conference lacks the resources to produce two exams twice annually for an extended period of time, she added. Decisions about which test to use will be made by state courts and bar examiners—not by individual test takers.
Conference leaders have already begun meeting with officials in individual states to discuss implementing the new test, though none have yet announced their adoption for the July 2026 administration. Gundersen said courts and attorney admissions offices have said they want to make that decision early in order to give students and law schools plenty of time to prepare for whichever test they will use.
The revamped test won't include questions on family law; estates and trusts, the Uniform Commercial Code; and conflict of laws. It will test aspiring attorneys in seven skills areas, including client counseling and advising; client relationships and management; legal research; legal writing; and negotiations.
The National Conference hopes to release some prototype questions later this year and administer a prototype exam in 2024, Gundersen said.
The new test will also be shorter—taking a day and a half instead of the current two days for the Uniform Bar Exam. The shorter test will allow jurisdictions to add state-specific components without requiring a third day of testing, Gundersen said.

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