In Their Words: Bringing the Uniform Bar Exam to Oklahoma

July 2, 2020 | By Katelyn Niles & Trae Havens, 3Ls

Last summer, my classmate Trae Havens and I were privileged to serve Oklahoma by interning with the office of Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice James Winchester. Throughout the summer, we worked on a variety of different research projects, such as writing draft opinions and organizing files for oral arguments, but the most important thing we did was research for the potential adoption of the Uniform Bar Exam, or UBE, in Oklahoma.

We examined the implementation process for other states, such as Texas, and their reasoning for adopting the new exam. We evaluated the advantages of the UBE that other states identified and discussed their potential for Oklahoma. The research we presented to Justice Winchester was extremely important, as it assisted in determining whether Oklahoma should consider transitioning to the UBE. As law students who will be taking the bar exam in the coming years, we wanted to be sure to advocate for a decision that was preferred by and would benefit Oklahoma law students.

Lawyers in Oklahoma are regulated by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, meaning, any change in regulation must have the consent of the court. Over the last decade, 36 states have transitioned to the Uniform Bar Exam. Our research discovered that this allows for more flexibility in the first years of a lawyer’s career after law school.

We found that the adoption of the UBE allowed for more communities to be served by local lawyers, especially in rural areas. Once our research was done, we wrote memos and discussed our findings with Justice Winchester and his full-time clerks. We then began speaking with members of the Oklahoma Bar Association, OU Law deans, and others who might have a say in the adoption of the UBE.

Our discussions led us to the idea that the sooner the UBE was adopted in Oklahoma, the better. All this research led to Chief Justice Gurich forming a committee to consider our findings and find ways to best implement the new exam model.  

After a year of research and advocacy, our goal was accomplished when the Oklahoma Supreme Court announced the adoption of the Uniform Bar Exam starting in July 2021. This change is especially impactful for us as students, because we will be the first class to take advantage of the UBE. This exam has lessened the stress of choosing a place to take the bar and made job hunting and future planning more straightforward. 

Most students spend their summer researching claims that affect individuals, but we spent our summer starting a wave of change for future law students and lawyers in Oklahoma, it’s an incredible feeling to know you implemented a positive change that will lessen the stress of the bar exam and will provide Oklahoma with more opportunities.

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