Law student at laptop

How to Assess NextGen Readiness

By Susannah Pollvogt

In a prior blog, I discussed a three-step action plan for law schools concerned about readiness for the NextGen Bar Exam: (1) assess; (2) discuss; (3) prepare. Assessment is the key first step. If the assumption is that students already possess the skills and knowledge they need for NextGen, then it will be difficult to gain traction for any efforts to approach the curriculum and pedagogy differently in anticipation of the new bar exam. If assessment bears that assumption out, fantastic! Keep doing what you are doing.  But if it doesn’t, then the assessment information gives you a starting point for your discussions and plans.

In general, we only know how well our students perform on the types of assessments we already typically give them in law school: multiple-choice questions; issue-spotter essays; first-year and upper-level legal writing assignments; seminar papers; performance in skills classes; and performance in live-client scenarios (clinics and externships).

NextGen — or at least 60% of it — is truly like none of these. Unlike typical multiple-choice and essay exams given in the majority of doctrinal classes, NextGen presents students with primary factual and legal sources they have never seen before and requires them to read and digest those sources in real time before getting to the business of problem solving. This is a fundamentally different process than relying on material that has been memorized or on notes that are available in an open-book exam — where students have seen the material before and have already broken it down for understanding. 

Legal writing classes present students with primary sources but typically do not do so in an extremely time-pressured, performance test setting.

And skills classes as well as live client representation also generally allow more time for performing tasks, and also incorporate a level of practical realism in work product that is beyond the scope of what is expected on work product for the bar exam.

Thus, information gathered from existing law school assessments is unlikely to tell us much about NextGen readiness. This is why I recommend that law schools develop and administer a class-wide learning outcome assessment tool that mimics NextGen competencies and question types.

Susannah Pollvogt

Principal Consultant for Academics and Curriculum, LEC
Susannah Pollvogt is the principal consultant for academics and curriculum for LSAC’s Legal Education Consulting (LEC) group.