Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

California Law Deans Take Bar Exam Complaints To Lawmakers; State Bar Director Admits There Is 'No Good Answer' For High MBE Pass Score

California (2016)Following up on my previous coverage (links below):  The Recorder, Frustrated Law Deans Take Bar-Exam Complaints to Lawmakers:

The head of California’s state bar told lawmakers on Tuesday “there’s no good answer” for why the state requires the second-highest bar exam passing score in the nation.

“For many years it was seen as a point of pride that it was such a rigorous exam but perhaps it’s time now to look again,” Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker said at an Assembly Judiciary Committee hearing. “Is it doing what we want? Is it a fair exam? Is the pass score effectively set where it is? When you ask why is [the multistate bar exam cut score] set at 144, I’m embarrassed to tell you there’s no good answer.”

California's high pass-score has been under attack since November when the bar revealed that just 43 percent of those taking the July exam earned a passing score—a 32-year low. California test-takers scored higher on the multistate bar exam portion of the exam than the national average, but their pass rate lagged behind peers in other states where the required score is lower.

Twenty of 21 California law schools approved by the American Bar Association signed a letter this month asking the state Supreme Court to temporarily lower the scoring requirement while the bar studies the cause of the slide. The court has not responded publicly. But the issue has caught the attention of legislators, who devoted three hours Tuesday to studying the complexities of law school admissions and testing—and hearing from frustrated law deans. ...

“The effect of this low bar passage rate is to put our students and our law schools at a competitive disadvantage,” said Stephen Ferruolo, dean of the University of San Diego Law School. “The low bar passage rate is also I believe adversely impacting the quality of the California bar and the preparedness of California lawyers.”

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Arg... this may be my 2nd (not-so-great) comment (after screen unexpectedly refreshed mid sentence) but where/when has the CA bar ever announced that an MBE "cut score" existed? (Beside's Parker's statement in the above article). Would have been nice to know that possible barrier existed, because I was under the assumption that a high score for written sections could outweigh a low MBE score?

Posted by: Sp | Mar 9, 2017 11:40:08 AM

Why has not California started administering the Uniform Bar Exam? Why should bar exam takers be held accountable to memorize the rules of 14 subject matters; do clients visit lawyers expecting them to be a walking encyclopedia of statutes? In the United Kingdom, the bar exam is OPEN BOOK, because it is analysis that is important, and not the fact that a person can memorize and recall a gigantic amount of rules.

Posted by: SJ | Feb 27, 2017 10:17:47 AM

I think the other comments miss the point: California bar test takers score higher (on average) than the rest of the country, but the passage rate is lower because of the arbitrary cutoff for passing chosen by the CA bar. If NY and CA had swapped their thresholds 5 years ago, the passage rate in NY would have dramatically plummeted and CA would have had only minor changes. The question is really whether there's a good policy reason the threshold for CA is unusually high, and the head of the bar has just admitted there isn't.

Posted by: Tim | Feb 16, 2017 10:14:12 AM

So now the Cali law deans want a state legislative bailout for their own poor decisions to lower admissions standards.
That will go along nicely with the hoped-for Federal bailout for all the student loans that will never be paid back.
Maybe the Legislature will investigate why such bailouts are needed, and maybe even connect those issues with the difficulty most new attorneys are having in finding legal work.
But then, maybe not . . .

Posted by: Old Ruster | Feb 15, 2017 5:56:56 PM

Surely this can have nothing to do with the years-long trend of plummeting LSAT and GPA scores of law students. In Ontario, there is a delightfully mean expression: if you can hold a fork, you can get into York [University]. Perhaps we should start a corollary "if you can shut your jaw, you can get into law."

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 15, 2017 3:17:22 PM

Shameless, selfish villainy.

Posted by: Jojo | Feb 15, 2017 11:18:12 AM