Los Angeles Times op-ed: The California Bar Exam Flunks Too Many Law School Graduates, by David L. Faigman (Dean, UC-Hastings):
Graduates who fail face [the bar exam] losing jobs already started, not getting jobs that were promised, debt, embarrassment and more debt. Simply taking the exam again costs more than $700, and add to that the cost of further bar review classes, living expenses in the meantime and income lost. All told, thousands more dollars may be piled onto law school debt that is increasingly well above $100,000. ...
Given the stakes for the individual law graduate, as well as the state’s obligation to ensure that those given a license to practice law are qualified, one would think the state bar, which administers the test, would have sound reasons for how it sets the line — the “cut score” — between passing and failing. If you thought that about California, you would be mistaken.
The California bar exam has historically had the highest cut score of any state, consistently resulting in the nation’s lowest pass rates. In July 2016, California’s pass rate reached a record low 62% for graduates of American Bar Assn.-accredited law schools. New York’s was 83%. Although California has always had low pass rates, the July results caused an outcry. It finally dawned on those of us who run law schools in the state to ask why.
Was New York truly allowing unqualified lawyers to practice? Did the State Bar of California have research indicating that its cut score of 144 was more protective of the public than New York’s 133? Twenty (out of 21) deans of ABA-accredited law schools in California wrote in protest to the state Supreme Court, which has authority over the bar. Several of us later testified on the subject at a hearing before the California Assembly’s Judiciary Committee, where Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker, the state bar’s executive director, told the committee that “there is no good answer” for why the California cut score is so high. ...
At the Judiciary Committee hearing, a representative of the California bar was asked how many exam takers fell between New York’s passing score and California’s. The answer was 1,789. That is, there were 1,789 individuals who would have begun their careers in New York but who have instead had their lives profoundly disrupted in California.
The deans’ letter asked the state Supreme Court to require a more rational cut score. We suggested using either a comparable state’s score, such as New York’s 133, or the median of all state scores in the country, which is 135. Neither may be a perfect cut score for California; we do need to study the matter. But in the meantime, California should not continue to be such an extreme outlier.
Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:
- July 2016 California Bar Exam (Nov. 22, 2016)
- More On The California Bar Exam (Dec. 5, 2016)
- Who Is To Blame For UC-Hastings 'Horrific' 51% Bar Pass Rate? (Dec. 7, 2016)
- July 2016 California Bar Exam Results: Nine Law Schools (Including UC-Hastings) Are At Risk Of Failing ABA's Proposed New Bar Passage Accreditation Standard (Dec. 13, 2016)
- Anderson: Deans, Denial, And The California Bar Exam (Dec. 20, 2016)
- Despite 'Horrific' 51% Bar Passage Rate, New UC-Hastings Dean Says School Is Poised To 'Catapult Into National Preeminence' Using NYU As A Model (Dec. 21, 2016)
- California Law School Bar Pass Rates Recalculated For New York: Stanford, UCB, USC > NYU; UCI, UCLA > Columbia; Chapman, Loyola, McGeorge, Pepperdine, Santa Clara, UCD, USD > Fordham (Dec. 22, 2016)
- More On The July 2016 California Bar Exam (Dec. 26, 2016)
- California’s New Bar Exam Format And ABA’s Proposed 75% Bar Passage Requirement Will Adversely Impact Diversity, Women, And Access To The Legal Profession (Jan. 30, 2017)
- Deans Of 20 Of California's 21 ABA-Accredited Law Schools Ask State Supreme Court To Lower Bar Exam Pass Score (Feb. 2, 2017)
- ABA 'Overwhelmingly' Rejects 75% Bar Passage Requirement (Feb. 7, 2017)
- California Law Deans Take Bar Exam Complaints To Lawmakers; State Bar Director Admits There Is 'No Good Answer' For High MBE Pass Score (Feb. 15, 2017)
- Beyond The Cut Score: Piercing The Veil Of The California Bar Exam's Validity (Mar. 2, 2017)
- Lawmakers Ask Calif. Chief Justice To Cut State Bar Exam Score (Mar. 9, 2017)