Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

UC-Hastings Law Dean Calls Bar Exam Failure For Top Schools 'Unconscionable'

July 2017 California BarFollowing up on yesterday's post, July 2017 California Bar Exam Results Rebound From 32-Year Lows: The Recorder, UC Hastings Law Dean Calls Bar Exam Failure for Top Schools 'Unconscionable':  

The pass rate on California’s July bar exam may have risen to a five-year high but one dean says the state remains on “a wayward path” by holding on to a score requirement that is the second highest in the country.

UC Hastings Dean David Faigman said Monday he’s disappointed that only 70 percent of first-time test-takers at American Bar Association-approved schools such as his passed the test. The pass rate for comparable students in New York was 86 percent.

“There’s simply no suggestion that New York is admitting scores of unqualified lawyers to the bar,” Faigman told The Recorder. California is “just out of the mainstream,” he added. ...

“It’s virtually unconscionable” to accept that “30 percent of ABA-accredited graduates from California law schools are not minimally competent to practice law,” Faigman said.

Above the Law, Law School Dean Ready To Rain Down Fire And Brimstone Upon State Bar Over California Bar Exam Pass Rates

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Maybe the solution is changing the way they prepare students instead of putting the blame on others.

Posted by: AnonLawProf | Nov 22, 2017 5:52:05 AM

So it is unconscionable to hold on to a passing score that has been in place for 30 with little objection, but it is not unconscionable to:

1) Systematically lower admissions standards and admit students incapable of passing the bar that has been in place for thirty years;

2) Raise tuition by at least 3-5% annually like clockwork regardless of what economic conditions are like in the profession.

Something is seriously wrong with the average law school dean. There is just a total lack of self-awareness.

Posted by: JM | Nov 22, 2017 7:56:56 AM

It's virtually unconscionable that accredited California law schools produce several magnitudes more graduates than there are license-required jobs for them, let alone jobs that warrant the cost of those schools' tuitions. Glass houses, stones.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Nov 22, 2017 11:33:39 AM

Hey "AnonLawProf" (lol right), the blame SHOULD sit squarely on the California Bar examiners. July 2017 exam confirms such as it was the first exam to effectuate the new weighting system (i.e. MBE weight increased from 35% to 50%). Meaning that finally objectivity played a larger role in the exam.

Bar exam graders spend between 3 to 5 minutes on each essay they read. What do you think their default grade? Do you think bar exam graders aren't bitter for getting paid peanuts to grade an essay of a potential lawyer (i.e. new competition in an already overly-saturated industry)?

Posted by: Peep | Nov 22, 2017 2:02:33 PM

As the state bar itself recently made clear, this artificIal regulatory barrier to the legal profession has a disproportionate impact on minority aspirants. Yet, the Supreme Court ignored the diversity problem that plagues the California bar and refused to lower the cut score. Given the rising incomes and employment rates for California lawyers there is no justification for these racial barriers. Perhaps it’s time for the legislature to step in and reform the process.

Posted by: Steve Diamond | Nov 22, 2017 7:42:16 PM

I agree with anonlawprof. There are lots of things that law school can do to better prepare their students--do more problem-solving exercises, use frequent formative assessment, teach students metacognitive skills, teach students better study skills. Steve, what is your school doing to help minorities learn better?

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Nov 22, 2017 9:27:45 PM

Steve I'm been thinking about your email. The racial barriers are not from the California Supreme Court, which is keeping the passing score at the same place it has been for decades, but from those law professors who refuse to do everything they can to help minorities learn better. Better teaching approaches are out there, and they are fairly easy to learn. Don't blame someone else when the fault lies with you. I have laid it all out in my article How to Help Students from Disadvantaged Backgrounds Succeed in Law School, 1 Texas A & M Law Review 83 (2013). No more blaming others for your faults.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Nov 22, 2017 9:44:26 PM

Just get rid of the anachronistic bar exam altogether which is nothing more than an ancient trade-restrictive tradition.

Posted by: Skip | Nov 23, 2017 6:01:21 AM


Just because your employer chose to cut standards - the 75th percentile LSAT score of your matriculants last fall isn't even equivalent to the 25th percentile LSAT score your incoming students had in 2010 - doesn't mean everyone else needs to stoop as low. The pass rate is no secret; it's been the same threshold for DECADES. Lack of diversity in the CA bar? I wonder if the 40% tuition increase Santa Clara has undergone in the last decade has anything to do with it. I mean, that has to have something to do with the >40% decrease in applicants between 2011 and 2016, from ~3,700 down all the way to 2,100. Or maybe prospective students are turned away by the percentages of grads who actually wind up in the legal profession (FT/LT/license-req'd), which in recent years ranges from a truly horrifying 35% to a still horrifying 47%. And let's look at those unemployment rates! 45 of 215 for the Class of 2016 (20%). 66 of 219 for the Class of 2015 (30% !!!). 81 of 261 the year before that (31% !!!). The unemployment rate for the entire 25-34 population is 4.4%. So how, exactly, does septupling that cohort's unemployment rate (while saddling them with six figures in nondischargeable debt) help diversity in the CA Bar or anything else? Not even 1 in 2 of your graduates end up with useful bar licenses at all!

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Nov 23, 2017 9:19:20 AM

Peep writes: "Bar exam graders spend between 3 to 5 minutes on each essay they read. What do you think their default grade?"

Yeah! Why can't it be more like law school, where the entire grade is based upon one final that a professor might spend five minutes reading (really scanning alongside his/her model answer) and for which the student will likely never see feedback? Glass pedagogies, stones...

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Nov 23, 2017 9:22:08 AM