Diversity, Fairness, and Inclusion

The mission of the National Conference of Bar Examiners is to promote fairness, integrity, and best practices in admission to the legal profession for the benefit and protection of the public. As part of our vision for a competent, ethical, and diverse legal profession, we take seriously the need to work toward greater equity in all that we do as a testing organization, and we actively work to eliminate any aspects of our exams that could contribute to performance disparities among different groups.

We maintain high standards in developing our test questions through the work of our diverse drafting committees, and as we work to implement the next generation of the bar exam, we remain committed to producing a bar exam that fairly assesses all candidates.

We pledge to continue our efforts to listen, learn, develop partnerships, and take action to promote greater diversity and inclusion in the legal profession.

How We Promote Diversity and Inclusion

Ensuring fairness in our exams

We actively work to eliminate any aspects of our testing programs that could contribute to performance disparities among different groups. We maintain high standards in developing our test questions, and we maintain a rigorous process of external review, bias review, and pretesting prior to the exam, as well as post-exam statistical analysis, to ensure that all examinees have a fair opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. 

Our drafting committees are made up of legal professionals representing a diverse mix of races, ethnicities, genders, and geographic regions, and include practicing attorneys, judges, and law school faculty members. Drafters are trained to avoid test content that could be confusing, inflammatory, offensive, or distracting to examinees or that could reinforce negative stereotypes. After every test administration, comprehensive statistical analyses are conducted to ensure that test results are reliable, accurate, and unbiased. One type of analysis, known as differential item functioning (DIF), is used specifically to detect any possible measurement bias at the level of the individual test question. For a more detailed look at how to ensure fairness in testing, see “The Testing Column: Ensuring Fairness in Assessment.”

Some examinees may require accommodations or alterations to the way a test is presented to allow them to have the same opportunity as other test takers to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. Our exam products are available in a variety of alternative formats, including audio, Braille, and large print, as well as on a laptop with preinstalled assistive software or in an electronic format to permit test takers to use assistive software on their own computers. Additionally, custom versions of the exam can be created for test takers with other specific needs, such as having the exam printed on a certain color of paper or in a specific font size.

Inclusion and diverse perspectives have been central to every stage of our recently completed three-year study of the bar exam. As we work to develop and implement the next generation of the bar exam under the guidance of our Implementation Steering Committee (ISC), we will continue to perform test item review processes and psychometric analyses to ensure fairness. The ISC’s Diversity, Fairness, and Inclusion (DFI) workgroup is focused on fairness and inclusion for historically underrepresented and disadvantaged groups across all implementation activities. The DFI workgroup will help to identify and eliminate potential bias as new item types and formats are developed and knowledge and skills are assessed in the new integrated test design. The DFI workgroup will also assist with evaluating accessibility and fairness for all groups based on universal design principles as we develop item prototypes.

Furthering the discussion

Conducting research: publications and presentations

Publications

NCBE's Testing and Research staff members conduct ongoing research relevant to bar admissions testing. NCBE’s Director of Diversity, Fairness, and Inclusion Research collaborates with in-house staff and external stakeholders to further NCBE’s organization-wide efforts to ensure that diversity, fairness, and inclusion pervade its test products and services. Staff publications addressing diversity and fairness in bar admissions include the following:

Our Bar Examiner magazine’s recent “Focus on Diversity” article series addresses diversity in the legal profession and efforts to enhance the participation and success of underrepresented and/or historically disadvantaged groups in legal education and bar admissions. 

In addition to NCBE research publications listed above, additional Bar Examiner articles covering diversity in legal education, bar admissions, and the legal profession include the following:

Presentations 

NCBE staff members routinely participate in professional conferences to learn from others about best practices in assessment, fairness, and equity, and to contribute to the ongoing conversation. The most recent of these presentations include the following:

  • "Fair and Equitable Assessments for All" (Joanne Kane, PhD, Association for Test Publishers Annual Meeting, April 2021)
  • “On the Assessment of Non-Cognitive Competencies in Licensure: Why, Whether, and How?” (Joanne Kane, PhD, National Council on Measurement in Education Annual Meeting, June 2021).

Supporting education and discussion within the bar admissions community

Our educational events, including our Annual Bar Admissions Conferences, have provided opportunities for members of the bar admissions community to learn from a variety of thought leaders on diversity and inclusion. Our conference sessions from 2017 through 2021 have included the following:

2021

  • "The Academy: Institutions and Individuals," including an analysis of current diversity in legal academia; how it contributes to a healthy, representational bar; and strategies for improvement. (Speakers: William Adams, managing director of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar at the American Bar Association, and Meera Deo, PhD, professor of law at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law.) 
  • "Legal Employment and Expanding Diversity," focusing on general legal employment trends as well as the representation of nonbinary individuals in the profession. (Speakers: Rafael Langer-Osuna, litigation partner at Squire Patton Boggs, and James Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement.) 
  • "Shifting Patterns," providing perspectives on systems and policies that are true obstacles to diversifying the bar. (Speakers: Cliff Johnson, director of the Roderick and Solange MacArthur Justice Center and professor at the University of Mississippi School of Law, and Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.) 

2020

  • "Charting a New Course for Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity," a joint program of the NCBE Diversity and Inclusion and Education Committees to examine the impact and interdependence of our individual and collective roles in pursuit of racial justice, representation, and equity. (Speakers: Merf Ehman, executive director of Columbia Legal Services; James Leipold, executive director of the National Association for Law Placement; and Joseph Oteng, second-year law student at the Michael E. Moritz College of Law at The Ohio State University.)

2019

  • "Gender and Orientation Categories," on the expansion of the gender identity category required for pre-LSAT registration with the Law School Admission Council. (Speaker: Josiah Evans, PhD, co-director of assessments at the Law School Admission Council.)
  • "Access to Justice: Research and in Real Life," revealing current research on the justice gap, the connections between bar admissions and access to justice, and how they impact millions of individuals in the courtroom on a daily basis. (Speakers: Hon. Denise Owens, senior chancellor for Mississippi Hinds County Chancery Court, and Rebecca Sandefur, PhD, associate professor of sociology and law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.)

2018

  • "Diversity in Recruitment and Enrollment: Implications for the Future," discussing the current and future implications of the downturn in law school enrollments for racial and ethnic stratification and an analysis of LSAC's Top 240 Feeder Schools list. (Speakers: Tiffane Cochran, director of research for the Center for Legal Education Excellence at the AccessLex Institute, and Aaron Taylor, PhD, executive director of the AccessLex Center for Legal Education Excellence.)

2017

  • "Equal Opportunities in the Legal Profession." (Speaker: Hon. Randall Shepard, then-chief justice of the Indiana Supreme Court.)
  • "Diversity and Access to Justice: Research Initiatives." (Speakers: Rebecca Sandefur, PhD, associate professor of sociology and law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Aaron Taylor, PhD, executive director of the AccessLex Center for Legal Education Excellence.)

Within our organization

NCBE’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee

NCBE’s eight-member Diversity and Inclusion Committee champions policies and initiatives designed to encourage the participation and strengthen the performance of historically disadvantaged groups with respect to legal education and bar admissions, including bar passage. The committee, composed of judges, attorneys, law professors, and bar admission administrators, also advises NCBE’s Board of Trustees in remaining responsive to diversity issues in the provision of programs and services, and promotes diversity of presenters at NCBE educational programs, of participants on NCBE’s committees and task forces, and of the makeup of NCBE’s Board of Trustees and staff.

Partnering with CLEO Inc. to create the NCBE/CLEO Bar Passage Program

In October 2018, NCBE and the Council on Legal Education Opportunity Inc. (CLEO) announced a collaboration in support of their shared goal of increasing diversity and inclusion in the legal profession. NCBE provided funding to bolster CLEO’s programs that help individuals from traditionally underrepresented racial and ethnic groups and disadvantaged communities achieve success in law school and prepare to take and pass the bar exam. In July 2020, NCBE and CLEO announced a renewal and extension of their partnership for another three years, during which NCBE will contribute approximately $500,000 to continue funding the NCBE/CLEO Bar Passage Program, ensuring that CLEO students nationwide are able to receive consistent support throughout their three years of study.

Our commitment to diversity in hiring

NCBE and its Board of Trustees are committed to building a diverse team and fostering an inclusive work environment. We strive to hire, develop, and retain talented people who represent those we serve.

NCBE is proud to be an equal employment opportunity organization. We are committed to providing equal employment opportunity to all applicants and employees regardless of their race, color, religion, age, sex, national origin, disability, military service, protected veteran status, genetic information, sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other characteristic protected by federal, state, or local law. 

NCBE is further committed to ensuring that employment actions, such as recruiting, hiring, training, promotion, compensation, and benefits, are administered fairly to all persons on an equal opportunity basis, without discrimination on the basis of protected categories named above. Employment decisions are based on job requirements. Interview teams receive interview compliance training and use consistent interview questions throughout the recruitment process. NCBE utilizes local, regional, and national recruitment sources including multicultural professional associations and student groups.

For current open positions, visit Job Announcements.

Prioritizing diversity and inclusion training and support for our staff

NCBE's employee experience includes remote and flexible work arrangements to improve inclusion, growth, and trust, as well as employee well-being programs that support connectivity. Our organization is structured with accountability for diversity and inclusion initiatives through the work of departments across the organization and through compliance-based training, including topics like diversity & inclusion and unconscious bias. 

In addition to attending our Annual Bar Admissions Conference, NCBE staff members working on item editing and/or test scoring have received additional training from academic experts on diversity and inclusion.