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Bar News - August 13, 2010

Coolbroth, Chair of Board of Bar Examiners, Steps Down


Frederick J. Coolbroth
Frederick J. Coolbroth, chair of the NH Board of Bar Examiners, will be stepping down on Nov. 1, 2010, a year before his latest three-year term is up. Appointed by the Supreme Court, he has been a member of the board since 1987 and chair since 1996. He will be succeeded by Gordon J. MacDonald of Nixon Peabody in Manchester. (See sidebar.)

Coolbroth practices corporate and utilities law at Devine Millimet in Concord; in fact, he has been representing Fairpoint Communications Corp. through its recent difficulties. But Coolbroth will be cutting his practice to part-time soon – and stepping down as chair (he will remain a member of the board) – is part of this transition into another phase of his life. With a reduced work schedule, he plans, among other things, to do some traveling with his wife Jeaneen, who is Southern Division Manager of PSNH, and is also retiring November 1, 2010.

Evolution of the Bar Exam

Coolbroth has seen several changes in the Bar Exam over the past 15 years – and not just in the exam itself, but also in the way it is administered. Recently, examinees were allowed to use laptops to take the exam. The first time this option was offered in July 2009, 77 examinees paid the extra fee of $50 to take advantage of the privilege. Since then, the service has become a regular part of the exam scene. When a candidate is finished with the exam, the results are uploaded and printed.

"During the past few years, for some students, the first time they’d ever seen a Blue Book was at the Bar Exam," said Coolbroth. "This innovation [using laptops] requires great care in monitoring the exam; we use a program called ExamSoft which locks out access to the Internet and to all other programs."

The Supreme Court did not have the facilities to allow for this wide use of laptops. "But Franklin Pierce Law Center does have the capability and they kindly allowed us to administer the exam there," said Coolbroth.

Both parts of the exam are graded by the board – and the newer technology has been great for the graders. "We no longer have to interpret handwriting for applicants who take the exam by computer," Coolbroth said.

In addition, when the NH Supreme Court accepted admission by motion in 2002, the number of people needing to sit for the Bar exam was reduced.

Further Changes

MacDonald Takes
Bar Examiner Helm

Gordon MacDonald
Gordon MacDonald, the in-coming chair of the NH Board of Bar Examiners, has been a member of the board since 2002. He is a partner at Nixon Peabody in Manchester. MacDonald is the co-author of New Hampshire Practice: Civil Practice and Procedure (Lexis), a three-volume series on procedure in New Hampshire state courts. A graduate of Cornell Law School, he has been a NH Bar member since 1995. He says of Fred Coolbroth, current chair, "Needless to say, I have big shoes to fill, and I am grateful to the Supreme Court for the confidence it has placed in me."
"The board consists of six Multistate Bar Exam (MEE) graders, four Multistate Performance Test (MPT) graders, 7 Daniel Webster Scholars Bar examiners, the Bar Exam head proctor, plus the chair." For years, each Bar examiner wrote, and then graded, one essay question. The chair also edited the questions and helped out in writing and grading if one of the members couldn’t fulfill his or her obligation for one reason or another.

Part I of the exam consisted of the Multistate Bar Exam (200 multiple choice questions) from the National Conference of Bar Examiners. Twelve essay questions, all New Hampshire-specific, formed Part II of the two-day exam.

But in 2004, the board decided to eliminate six of these essay questions and replace them with two questions from the Multistate Performance Test, prepared by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. In Feb. 2005, test-takers received for the first time two thick files with an assignment for each, based on its contents. Upon initiating this change, the board decided to switch the days for Parts I and II, so the multiple choice questions now fall on the second day.

Another change took place in 2006 when the board decided to replace the New Hampshire essay section with six essay questions from the Multistate Essay Exam. The Bar Exam at that time became a truly national test, without any NH-specific section.

Perhaps the greatest change came with the creation of the Daniel Webster Scholars Program, through which qualified students at FPLC are allowed to complete special course work over a two-year period in place of the traditional bar exam. "It is essentially a two-year Bar Exam, though," said Coolbroth, speaking of the stringent curriculum which aims to have students "client-ready" by the end of the program.

"Supreme Court Justice Linda Dalianis was the moving force behind the Webster Scholars Program, devoting much time and effort to the research and development of the Program," said Coolbroth.

Why a Bar Exam Anyway?

"The object of the Bar Exam is to be sure the persons sitting for the exam are at least minimally ready to practice law," said Coolbroth. "It’s our responsibility to protect the public; the exam strives to be a valid, reliable and fair measurement of ability." One year, in an effort to be fair also to the examinees (and to test the product), some members of the board and some of the justices took portions of the exam themselves. They found it to be eminently fair.

After grading is completed, the raw MEE and MPT scores are scaled to the Multistate Bar Exam and a final combined score is calculated. Borderline scores go through a re-read process. A combined score of 270 is required to pass the Bar Exam. Applicants receiving a score of 268 or 269 have their MEE and MPT scores re-read. If the result of the re-read process increases the score to 270, the applicant passes the Bar Exam.

The Bar Exam is graded anonymously. Once the identity of the applicants becomes known, the board will not conduct any further review of grades.

Gordon MacDonald, the incoming chair, says, "Fred has led the Board in making many important and innovative changes in the bar admission process. He is well-known and highly respected among bar admission leaders across the country for his work here in New Hampshire, as well as with the National Conference of Bar Examiners."

A graduate of Boston College Law School, Coolbroth began his education as a music major, but changed to law when he saw how difficult it would be to make a living as a musician. He plays guitar, piano and organ. He has two sons, one (Frederick, Jr.) is a lawyer with Rath, Young & Pignatelli in Concord and the other (Dana) is an engineer who lives in Denver.

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