Two times each year, Bradley Skolnik, executive director of the Indiana Office of Admissions and Continuing Education, and his staff review every detail of the room where the applicants will literally sit for the bar exam.
They will scrutinize the brightness of the lights, the temperature, and even the noise from the heating and cooling system. Then they make adjustments in an effort to keep the site as free of distractions and disturbances as possible during the high-stakes test. Still, despite all the preparation, annoyances can intrude.
Skolnik recalled one July exam as the applicants were crafting their answers to the essay questions, the music of John Fogerty penetrated the room.
The singer-songwriter was doing a full rehearsal in preparation for a concert that evening at White River State Park, and for some unknown reason the sound carried across downtown Indianapolis. Inside the exam room, Fogerty’s hits like “Proud Mary,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” and “Down on the Corner” reverberated while the lawyer hopefuls were trying to demonstrate their knowledge of such subjects as Indiana’s employment and family laws and the state’s constitution
“That was disturbing for some applicants, but there was nothing we could do,” Skolnik said. “It was also very disturbing that most of those applicants had never heard of John Fogerty. It made me feel old.”
Even without the surprises, Skolnik knows the bar exam is a highly stressful event that will result in some applicants realizing their long-held dream of practicing law and others suffering the disappointment of having to try again. He vividly remembers the anxiety and tension he felt in 1981 when he sat in the Murat Theatre and handwrote his answers to the then all-essay bar exam.
Indiana’s bar examiner described the licensure test as a “very grueling experience,” but he is not calling for the requirement to be abandoned.
“I believe that the exam does as good a job as possible of testing minimum competency,” Skolnik said. “… I think it would be a mistake for the legal profession not to have some type of entry examination unless we find that there’s a better alternative. I’ve not yet seen that.”
Skolnik has been the state’s bar exam executive director since 2011, and in August he settled into a national leadership role when he became the chair of the Council of Bar Admission Administrators. For the next year, he will oversee the organization, which in the past has examined different aspects of the bar exam and made recommendations to the National Conference of Bar Examiners.
Retired Indiana Chief Justice Randall Shepard said the calmness and thoughtfulness that Skolnik displays are well-suited for navigating these times, with the bar exam remaining a topic of discussion and sometimes controversy around the country. In particular, Shepard noted Skolnik’s ability to draw people to new ideas without making them feel like they are being forced into the work.
“His contributions to Indiana civic life are just stunning,” Shepard said. “When you go all the way back to (his work for) the secretary of state, time after time, how lucky Indiana is that he not only stayed around but stayed in public life in one way or another.”
No ruffled feathers
A native of Benton Harbor, Michigan, Skolnik remains a loyal fan of his alma mater, Michigan State University. However, Indiana has been his home since he arrived to study at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington.
He clerked for former Court of Appeals of Indiana Judge Sue Shields after he graduated and continues to carry the lesson he learned from that experience : The cases the courts decide are not theoretical but do have a real effect on people’s lives.
Skolnik went on to work in private practice and became the Indiana securities commissioner for the Indiana secretary of state in 1994. In that role, he led the enforcement of state securities law and the oversight of professionals such as investment advisers and stockbrokers.
When the position with the bar examiners opened, his interest was piqued. Skolnik saw the expertise he had developed as a securities regulator as overlapping with the work of ensuring lawyers in the state have minimum competency.
The bar exam has been among his top duties for more than 10 years. He views the test as protecting consumers from incompetent attorneys and benefiting applicants because the preparation for the test may introduce them to some areas of law they did not study in law school.
“The bar exam tests fundamental skills,” Skolnik said. “And I think the law schools are trying to make sure that their graduates have those skills. There are a number of things law schools around the country had done to better prepare their graduates for the bar exam.”
Jean Blanton, partner at Ziemer Stayman Weitzel Shoulders in Evansville, joined the Board of Law Examiners in 2019 and has come to appreciate Skolnik’s wealth of knowledge, reasonable approach to the board members and applicants, and ability to keep everything running smoothly.
“I’ve not ever seen his feathers get ruffled,” Blanton said, noting his calm approach. “We are very fortunate to have him in the role that he is in.”
Skolnik balances the importance of his work with family. He met his wife Gayle, a partner at Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath, when they were students at IU Maurer, and he continues to cheer for his beloved Spartans in their gridiron contests. He even made the trek with his two sons to watch the team win the 2014 Rose Bowl.
And, when a John Fogerty song comes on the radio, he is still inclined to turn up the volume.•