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More than two decades ago, Professor Deborah Merritt turned her attention to responding to the then-proliferating efforts to raise state passing scores for the bar examination. Writing with Lowell Hargens and Barbara Reskin, two professors of sociology, Professor Merritt challenged the methodology of the studies that purported to show the need to “raise the bar.” In the process, she presciently raised broader concerns about the validity of the bar exam to assess lawyer competence and the impact of the bar exam on the diversity of the legal profession. In the years since, Professor Merritt has continued to critique the bar exam, and her work has laid a foundation for the work of many others— including the authors of this piece—challenging the validity and adequacy of the current lawyer licensing system.

The reach of Professor Merritt’s work far exceeds the impact of her academic scholarship. She is as concerned with practice as with theory, and her empirical work and her involvement with those advocating for change have been instrumental in both leading and encouraging others on a similar journey. We, like others, have been inspired by her to continue our work to reform the lawyer licensing process. In this Essay, we discuss and expand on Professor Merritt’s groundbreaking work re-envisioning the bar exam and developing more effective alternative licensing methods.

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Ohio State Law Journal