Northern California Record

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

California lawmakers lobby to lower bar-exam standards

By Glenn Minnis | Apr 2, 2017

General court 10

SACREMENTO — Lawmakers in California are urging members of the state Supreme Court to consider lowering the score required to pass the state’s bar exam.

Members of the state’s Assembly Judiciary Committee recently sent a letter to Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye asking that she at least temporarily consider lowering the “cut score” required for passage, Courthouse News reported.

In a letter signed by all eight Judiciary members, including committee Chair and District 29 Assembly Member Mark Stone, supporters of the measure argued that “the cut score lacks a policy basis and its continued effect is causing actual harm to Californians across the state.”

Lawmakers have also expressed concerns that that current standards actually act as a deterrent to prospective legal professionals and spur increased anxiety among law school grads. In their letter, they argued "California’s system instead acts as an unnecessarily high barrier for those seeking to enter the legal profession — with potential ramifications for people of color,” the Courthouse News report said.

In addition, some contend the specter of the exam has resulted in a shift in law-school curriculum with more professors teaching toward the test.

“I’m inclined to agree with the opinion that standards are too high here in California,” Kyle McEntee, executive director of the not-for-profit think tank Law School Transparency, told the Northern California Record. “It's been that way forever and my guess is that it has to do with protectionism; just who they’re trying to keep out is a whole other matter.”

Currently, California holds the second-highest cut score requirement in the nation at 1,440 points, second only to Delaware. The standard has been in place for more than three decades, going unchanged since 1986.

Recently, the State Bar of California announced that a 30-year low of 62 percent of first-time exam takers from American Bar Association-accredited institutions passed the test in summer 2016.

The National Conference of Bar examiners reported that between 2007 and 2014, the national pass rate for first-time takers was 85 percent, compared to 77 percent in California.

“I expect the local rates to fall again in 2017 and even beyond that,” McEntee said. “There’s a lot of anger about falling rates and some schools are looking for cover to gloss over some of their own internal issues. This is a conversation that is not about to go away anytime soon.”

Meanwhile, Cantil-Sakauye recently sent a letter to California State Bar President James Fox and Executive Director Elizabeth Parker indicating that she plans to take a closer look at the issue.

Critics of the proposal have said that the high-score requirement is necessary to ensure that those practicing law across the state have at least the minimum competency needed to do so.

Cantil-Sakauye has urged the State Bar to investigate what the factors are for the recent low pass rate and to report on it no by December.

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Organizations in this Story

State Bar of CaliforniaLaw School Transparency