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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, July 14, 2017

NY Times:  California Supreme Court Moves To Make Bar Exam Easier To Pass

California Bar ExamFollowing up on Wednesday's post, California Supreme Court Strips Authority Of Bar Examiners To Set Cut Score; Lower Cut Score May Apply Retroactively To July Test-Takers:  New York Times, California Supreme Court Moves to Make Bar Exam Easier to Pass:

California has long had a reputation for having one of the most difficult bar exams in the country. Now, with passage rates sagging, the state will make it easier to pass the test, which is required to be licensed as a practicing lawyer.

The California Supreme Court, the ultimate authority over the bar exam, has decided to change the way the certification score is set. The court has not yet decided where the threshold will be set, but the changes will take effect in January.

The move follows a sometimes furious debate in California legal circles over whether the state’s passing score, or “cut score” — 144 — was unrealistic. ...

Last year, just 62 percent of first-time test takers passed the California bar exam, compared with 83 percent in New York.

And only 51 percent of the graduates of the University of California Hastings College of the Law passed the state’s exam in July 2016. That result, the school’s dean, David L. Faigman, wrote the California Committee of Bar Examiners last December, was “outrageous and constitutes unconscionable conduct on the part of a trade association that masquerades as a state agency.”

“The cut score is almost everything,” said Robert Anderson, a professor of corporate law at Pepperdine School of Law in California, who did a study of the 10 most difficult state exams in 2013. That study concluded that “California’s is probably the most difficult” in the country. “If California changed its minimum score to 133, which is the same as New York’s, then I would say, California’s is easy,” he added. (Delaware’s passing score is 145.)

Proponents for keeping the score argue that state bars have an ethical obligation to protect citizens from ill-prepared lawyers.

But deans of law schools, which have been buffeted by declining enrollments, say setting the bar licensure standard so high serves only to shield the profession by keeping out large numbers of qualified lawyers. In February, 20 deans at American Bar Association-accredited California law schools wrote the state Supreme Court asking it to set a lower passing score. ...

One flash point in the debate over the California exam was an announcement in April that Whittier Law School, a half-century old and accredited by the American Bar Association, would close.

Bar passage rates at Whittier, long an avenue for disadvantaged students to become lawyers, had plunged in recent years. Its passage rate hovered in the routine statewide range, about 68 percent a few years ago [84 percent in 2008], but fell to 22 percent on the July 2016 bar.

Some critics complained that a number of Whittier graduates had scores high enough that they would have passed nearly every other state’s bar.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

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Let's be clear on what lowering the score is really about. It is a bailout primarily for California law schools. The "crisis" of low bar passage is due to one single factor: law school admissions decisions. Period. This won't create more law jobs, so it isn't a bailout for law graduates. What's good for the too big to fail banks is good for the ivory tower, I guess.

Posted by: Anon | Jul 14, 2017 12:36:36 PM

You nailed it sir. Also, a slap in the face to those who busted there hump on previous exams like myself. There's too many damn law schools in California, and for that matter the entire country.

Posted by: unemployed lawyer | Jul 14, 2017 2:24:15 PM