Professor, Please Help Me Pass the Bar Exam #NextGenBar2026

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71 Journal of Legal Education 141 (2021)


Legal education is faced with an industry-changing event: the complete revamping of the licensing exam law school graduates must complete to use their hard-earned J.D. to practice law. What is not known is what law schools will do in response to this news; that is, how law schools will make adjustments to prepare students who will walk the halls starting in the fall of 2022 for this monumental change.

The diverse constituents of the legal academy, from administrators to faculty, from bar-readiness professors to contracts professors, from skills programs to curriculum committees, should be abuzz with conversations about the implications of the forthcoming new bar exam and should have already started, in earnest, to think about how to adapt to prepare future generations of students to succeed on the exam for both student success and to ensure continued compliance with the ABA accreditation standards. Unfortunately, the halls of the legal academy seem eerily quiet.

This article 1) explores why, based on the tie between the curriculum and the existing bar exam, the wait-and-see approach to the NextGen bar exam is ill-advised, and 2) provides the tools needed for law schools to begin discussions that will serve as a springboard for both short- and longer-term curricular change. Section I of this article orients the reader to the debate over the existing bar exam and explores the basis for the creation of the NextGen bar exam. Section II sets out the structure of the existing bar exam. With that context in mind, Section III identifies the three emerging ways law schools seem to be adapting their curricula—or not—to prepare law students for this existing exam. Section IV introduces the NextGen bar exam, highlighting how it will differ from the existing bar exam substantively and structurally. Finally, Section V suggests a number of ways—even without a specific NextGen bar exam prototype—law schools can begin to rethink their current curricular and assessment practices in response to and in preparation for the NextGen bar exam’s forthcoming implementation.