NextGen Bar Exam Unveiled: Emphasizing Legal Skills Over Memorization

The National Conference of Bar Examiners has unveiled the details of the forthcoming NextGen Bar Exam, scheduled to debut in July 2026. The 42-page outline released by the Conference outlines the specific legal skills and areas of the law that will be assessed in the overhauled test. Notably, the NextGen Bar Exam will depart from the current exam’s heavy reliance on memorization and place greater emphasis on practical lawyering skills.

Law students beginning their studies this fall will be among the first to take the NextGen exam. Professor Jon Lee from the University of Maine, who served on the committee responsible for determining the scope of the new test, confirmed this development. The National Conference initiated the development of the new exam in early 2021, aiming to address criticism that the existing exam does not adequately reflect the realities of legal practice.

The NextGen Bar Exam will replace the current exam’s three distinct components—the Multistate Bar Examination, the Multistate Essay Examination, and the Multistate Performance Test—with an integrated exam that assesses both knowledge and skills. The redesigned exam may utilize a shared fact pattern to evaluate multiple areas of the law and various legal skills through a series of five or six questions in different formats.

The NextGen bar exam will assess candidates in seven skills areas, including client counseling, client relationships and management, legal research, legal writing, and negotiations. It will also test candidates in eight areas of the law, such as constitutional law, contracts, civil procedure, and criminal law. Notably, family law, estates and trusts, the Uniform Commercial Code, and conflict of laws will no longer be included in the exam.

The committee responsible for shaping the new exam spent over a year deliberating on the topics to retain, remove, and the ones that would require memorization. The committee received over 400 public comments during this process. Additionally, the National Conference conducted pilot testing of new exam questions with 2,500 third-year law students and recent graduates from 70 law schools. Sample test questions are expected to be released later this summer.

Officials are currently finalizing the length of the exam, with the intention of keeping it no longer than the existing test and possibly shortening it. States will have the option to choose between administering the old bar exam or adopting the NextGen version starting in 2026.


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