Bar News - November 17, 2006
Large Group of New Members Admitted to New Hampshire Bar
By: Anita S. Becker
The NH Supreme Court admitted one of the largest groups of new members in recent years, 144, to the New Hampshire Bar at a special session on Oct. 31. Two additional new members, William Toronto and Anthony Osborne, both of Concord, were sworn in early on Sept. 25 to accommodate their military obligations. (See article, “Sworn in Early to Serve in Military,” page 25, Oct. 20, 2006, Bar News.) Of the group, 11 members were admitted on motion as practicing attorneys from other states.
Last year’s October bar admission group from the same time period consisted of 93 new members. New lawyers sworn in on May 22, 2006, most of whom had taken the February 2006 Bar exam, numbered 61.
The large number of admittees at this session—which had to be split into two to fit friends and family into the courtroom—is likely due to a combination of factors, including: a high bar exam passing rate; the decision in 2003 to admit attorneys from other jurisdictions “on motion” without a requirement to take the New Hampshire bar exam; and a change in testing procedure that allows candidates to take the New Hampshire and Massachusetts bar exams during the same week.
Earlier this year, the NH Supreme Court approved a lowering of the minimum passing score on the bar examination from 280 to 270. “This change was made to be more consistent with minimum passing scores in other states,” said NH Board of Examiners Chair Frederick J. Coolbroth, of Devine, Millimet & Branch. “Setting the minimum passing score involves a careful balancing of the interests of applicants seeking to practice their chosen profession with the interests of the public in ensuring that people admitted to practice have the requisite competence.”
Of the 170 people sitting for the exam in July, 138 passed, resulting in a very high pass rate of 81 percent, compared to the 56 percent pass rate on the July 2005 bar exam (note: this is before the change in minimum passing score). (See box below). The higher pass rate was due in part to the lowering of the minimum passing score but also to the fact that this group, on average, performed well on the Multistate Bar Exam (MBE). The MBE is a multiple choice exam prepared and graded by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. The July 2006 New Hampshire examinees achieved an average MBE scaled score above those in recent years and above the national average.
Looking at the bar exam taken in February 2006, the first graded with the lower minimum score, 68.4 percent of those taking it passed, compared to 50 percent at the same time last year (again, before the change in minimum passing score).
Despite the lowering of the scoring convention, the July 2006 exam takers performed well on the test. With a perfect total score being 400 points for the combined written and multiple-choice question portions of the exam, this year’s class had an average score of 147.6 out of 200 points for each portion.
It is now possible to take both the New Hampshire and neighboring Massachusetts bar exams in the same week. As a result, more people might be taking the New Hampshire exam. In February 2005, the New Hampshire bar exam days were required to change from Wednesday and Thursday to Tuesday and Wednesday in order to add the Multistate Performance Test (MPT) to the New Hampshire bar exam. With this change, candidates are able to take the written portion of the New Hampshire exam on Tuesday, the Multi-State Bar Exam (MBE) (in Massachusetts) on Wednesday, and the Massachusetts written portion on Thursday. The Massachusetts MBE results are provided to New Hampshire by the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners. This is an attractive option for attorneys who expect to practice in both states.
Twenty-three applicants took advantage of the opportunity to take the Massachusetts and New Hampshire Bar exams and were eligible to be admitted to both bars around the same time.
During the admission ceremony, Justice Linda Dalianis quoted from J.D. Salinger’s novel, The Catcher in the Rye, challenging the new members to be “catchers in the rye” and uphold the principles of justice and the integrity of the profession.