KANSAS CITY, MO. — Changes are coming to the bar exam to keep up with the ever-changing legal profession.
It’s one of the largest changes in the history of the bar exam.
Judge Cindy Martin with the Missouri Western District Court of Appeals chaired the task force of the three-year research project. She said this NextGen Bar Exam puts a greater emphasis on skills for lawyers.
“It’s really exciting to think of a licensure exam that adds the component of integration that feels like the real-world practice of law; that piece will be new,” Martin said in an exclusive interview with FOX4’s Missouri Capitol Bureau.
At the end of law school, the bar exam is the final hurdle toward becoming a licensed attorney.
“You have to be able to apply your lawyering skills to the facts in front of you to effectively give your client an answer,” Martin said. “The legal business needs to keep up with the changing profession and that’s what this NextGen Bar Exam will help our state do.”
Martin, who was appointed to the Western District Court of Appeals in 2009, has spent the last three years leading the charge on what changes need to be made to the exam, which included surveying 14,000 attorneys as part of their research.
“I’m sure a lot of people have no sense of what is involved in getting a license to practice law, but they still have an expectation that when they contact somebody who does have a license to practice law, that the appropriate vetting has been done to assure that that person is ready,” Martin said.
Missouri, along with nearly 40 other states, currently administers the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE), which was first given in 2011, but changes are coming.
When law students graduate in 2026, they will take the NextGen Bar Exam — with Missouri being one of the first states to administer it.
“It’s still two days but three hours shorter, and you might wonder, how can that be,” Martin said. “Well, the efficiency of this new design model because you’re going to be able to do more with less.”
The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE) is developing the new exam. The same group developed the Uniform Bar Exam.
While multiple-choice questions and essays will still be used, there’s a greater emphasis on real-world situations and skill sets.
Some of the questions will be similar to those used on the current exam, but there will also be a new type of question that requires those taking the exam to select two correct answers: integrated question sets, which will feature a mixture of short-answer and multiple-choice questions.
Examinees will still take the test on their own laptops at in-person, proctored testing locations.
“The practice of law, particularly for newly licensed lawyers, has changed dramatically,” Martin said. “Far more lawyers today, when they get out of law school, either hang their own shingle or go into small practices with their classmates.”
The current Uniform Bar Exam will no longer be administered after July 2028. Details for how Missouri will implement the NextGen Bar Exam in 2026 are still being designed, as is the exam itself.
Teams of law professors and deans, practicing attorneys and judges from states across the country are writing questions for the NextGen exam.
So far, more than 2,500 law students and graduates from 70 law schools across the country have pretested the NextGen questions. More than 90 law schools and more than 40 states are prepared to participate in the next stage of research, which starts in January.
“This is an exciting undertaking,” Martin said. “It may seem a bit sterile to the average citizen because it’s just not something they think about on a daily basis, but you want the professionals that have licenses in your state to be adequately prepared to help you.”
Besides Missouri, Maryland and Oregon will start administering the exam in July 2026. Wyoming plans to follow in 2027.