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