California Messed Up Its 'Baby Bar' and Traumatized Test Takers

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on July 25, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

News has gotten out that California's State Bar bungled the administration of its "baby bar" exam, adding to growing list of horror stories and scandals that hound the bar exam experience. This makes you wonder just how bad things can get before a reputation team is hired to burnish the bar exam's image.

In the meantime, those who've taken Cal's baby bar are enjoying a special kind of personal torment as they await the results of the test.

First Year Law Student's Examination

California is special -- in so many ways. Up until rather recently, we could boast the only three day bar exam in the country. More exams are administered in this state than any other jurisdiction and the failure rates are quite high, helping to boost this state's bar exam rep as being the "hardest" in the nation. Statisticians still debate over the causality between the three day length of the California bar and its notoriously low pass rate -- but these days with bar pass rates falling across the board, who really can say anymore?

One suspected culprit to the high failure rate is the rather disproportionate number of unaccredited law schools in the state. Under applicable rules, those law students who attend unaccredited law schools (or even dis-accredited law schools) must take the First Year Law Student's Examination, colloquially known as the "baby bar." It features 100 MBE questions and four essay questions covering torts, contracts, and criminal law.

4th Amendment? What's That?

Somebody must have made a mistake upstairs because in the most recent administration of the baby bar, because the third essay question featured call(s) asking about the Fourth Amendment and seizures. To most regulars, this seems to fit squarely within criminal law, but if we're hair-splitting, this question is actually criminal procedure.

California Bar: Mea Culpa

The State Bar has since admitted that it messed up and but has not yet revealed how the mistake will be dealt with. Damage control is moving rather swiftly at the Committee of Bar Examiners, which issued a statement with assurances that this would not happen again in the future, according to Above the Law. But we're sure that doesn't make the next few months any less nerve-racking to the test takers. As far as they're concerned, it's too little too late.

Editors Note, August 2, 2016: The California Baby Bar includes four essay questions, not three, as initially stated.

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