Paul L. Caron

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Utah To Let Grads Skip Bar Exam Due To COVID-19, But Only From Schools With 86%+ Bar Pass Rate; Grads Of Just 4 Of California's 21 Law Schools Would Qualify

Karen Sloan (, Utah Poised to Let Law Grads Skip the Bar Exam Amid COVID-19 Pandemic:

UtahUtah looks to be the first jurisdiction to embrace a temporary diploma privilege program amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which will allow recent law graduates to be admitted to practice without taking and passing the bar exam.

The Utah Supreme Court late Thursday released a proposed order [statement] amending its bar admission procedures on an emergency basis to allow recent and upcoming graduates of American Bar Association-accredited law schools that posted a first-time bar passage rate on last July’s exam of 86% or higher to be admitted in the state without sitting for the test. ...

The order isn’t final. The court is allowing public comment until April 16, after which a final order is expected. And if the proposed order is adopted as written, the July exam will be canceled. ...

Utah’s move shows the profound adjustment the pandemic is requiring from the legal profession, which has prompted some law firms to cancel summer associate programs and defer hiring of law grads. At the same time, law schools and courts have needed to move swiftly into remote operations.

“I’m thrilled for our students,” said Gordon Smith, dean of Brigham Young University J. Reuben Clark Law School. ... The 2019 86% first-time pass rate cutoff for qualifying schools wasn’t part of the deans’ original proposal, Smith said, though both BYU and Utah meet that standard.

86% was the pass rate of first time takers of the Utah Bar Examination in 2019. That is a terrible threshold to apply because the fifty states have widely varying cuts scores, which result in widely varying pass rates. Cut scores vary from 125 (South Carolina) to 145 (Delaware), resulting in pass rate percentages ranging from the low 60s to the high 80s.

For example, California's July 2029 first time taker pass rate was 71%, 15 percentage points lower than Utah's 86%. Ten California law schools exceeded that state wide average, and yet only four (Stanford (94%), UC-Berkeley (89%), UCLA (88%), and USC (86%)) would meet Utah's threshold. Graduates of the other six California law schools that exceeded the state wide average (UC-Davis (84%), Pepperdine (82%), UC-Irvine (80%), Loyola-L.A. (80%), UC-Hastings (79%), San Diego (75%)) would not qualify under Utah's proposed rule.

When it finalizes the rule, the Utah Supreme Court should take state-by-state differences in cut scores and pass rates into account. Indeed, U.S. News takes these differences into account in its law school rankings methodology by measuring how law school graduates fare relative to the state wide average in the state in which the most graduates sit for the bar. 

TaxProf Blog coverage of the July 2020 bar exam:

For complete TaxProf Blog coverage of the coronavirus, see here.

Coronavirus, Legal Ed News, Legal Education | Permalink


The key to understanding Utah's proposed policy isn't the cut scores, it's the rare circumstance where both Utah law schools have first-time pass rates higher than the state average for graduates of ABA-accredited schools. That means Utah can hold up a high standard and still cover all of their recent in-state graduates. If 86% (or, rather, the low 90s of the two schools) is a politically palatable cutoff, the people excluded from this benefit are all out of state or late/repeat Utahan takers. A few other states can do the same, but California isn't one of them given their large number of law schools and pronounced range of pass rates. Whatever the MBE cut score, this works because of the politics.

Posted by: LSAP | Apr 11, 2020 7:48:01 AM