TaxProf Blog

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

Friday, November 23, 2018

Key Lawmaker Urges State Bar To Re-Evaluate Bar Exam

California Bar ExamFollowing up on my previous post, July 2018 California Bar Exam Pass Rate Falls To 67-Year Low:  The Recorder, Key Lawmaker Urges State Bar to Re-Evaluate Bar Exam:

The chairman of the Assembly Judiciary Committee on Tuesday urged the state bar and California Supreme Court to “take a fresh look” at the viability of the bar exam in light of the historically low pass rate on the July 2018 test.

Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, said he was “dismayed and concerned” by figures released Friday that show only 40.7 percent of test-takers passed. The success rate was the lowest since 1951, and it marked the fifth year in a row that more people failed the California bar exam than passed it.

“The longer the downward trend continues, the more likely it will be that highly qualified applicants to law school are deterred from pursuing a career in the law and will opt for other career paths,” Stone said in an email. “The trend will further perpetuate the downward trajectory of bar passage rates, negatively affect diversity of the legal profession and the bench, and ultimately hurt public access to justice.”

Stone and seven other Democrats on the Judiciary Committee last year pleaded with the California Supreme Court to at least temporarily lower the minimum score—known as the cut score—needed to pass the bar exam.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye declined, citing several studies of the test that were in progress. After the bar reported to the high court that it could lower the cut score of 144 by as much as three points and still ensure “minimum competence” among new attorneys, the seven justices refused, calling the arguments to do so unpersuasive.

“I urge the state bar and the Supreme Court to take a fresh look at whether the bar exam appropriately evaluates the skills and knowledge necessary to license attorneys in the state; whether the current cut score on the California Bar Exam is fair and equitable; and whether new and creative ways to evaluate the competence of prospective attorneys, such as internships and practical training programs, may be more fair and more effective alternatives to the current bar exam,” Stone said.

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