Wednesday, October 7, 2020
Victor D. Quintanilla (Indiana) & Sam Erman (USC), An Empirical Study of Bar Exam Cut Scores and Their Impact on Disparities and Diversity in the Legal Profession, AccessLex Raising The Bar, Vol. 3, Iss. 4, 2020, at 10:
The choice of a bar exam passing score (“cut score”) is also a choice about the legal profession’s racial and ethnic makeup. That is the finding of our recent empirical study of all California bar exam takers across 11 years of exams, research we plan to publish in future articles and reports.
The analysis rests on our unique dataset: all attempts by all applicants across 21 consecutive administ rations of the California bar exam between 2009 and 2019 (n = 143,198 unique bar exams taken, including n = 85,727 unique examinees). We determined which examinees during the period passed (or would have passed with the scores they earned) at the actual 1440 cut score and at simulated cut scores of 1300, 1330, 1350, and 1390.
The actual cut score of 1440 produced stark racial and ethnic disparities. ... A lower cut score would have substantially reduced the racial and ethnic impacts of the bar exam, as revealed in the figures below.
Does the selection of a lower cut score harm the public? We next examined whether the selection of an exam cut score correlates with the number of 1) complaints brought by members of the public against attorneys, 2) attorneys formally charged after probable cause determinations, and/or 3) attorneys subjected to discipline in a jurisdiction, collecting this data from publicly available reports of the ABA Survey on Lawyer Discipline Systems. We gathered this data for all jurisdictions included within these reports and across the most recent six years available: 2013 – 2018. ... Ultimately, we found no significant relationship between the selection of an exam cut score and these three indicators. ...