Survey: California Lawyers Don't Want Bar Exam Changes

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 05, 2017 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Go figure: the vast majority of California attorneys don't want the state bar exam to get any easier.

In a survey that drew responses from nearly 40,000 California lawyers and others, the State Bar said 80 percent of the respondents don't want to lower the cut score. They generally said the test -- which is one of the most difficult in the country -- is good for consumers.

"That California's cut score is the second highest in the nation is something to be proud of, not something to be concerned about," said one respondent.

The survey may be good news for consumers and lawyers who have passed the bar. For law students and bar applicants, not so much.

Cut-Score 1440

The California State Bar released the survey results as the bar's Board of Trustees prepares to make a recommendation to the state supreme court about whether to lower the bar exam's cut score. California's cut off for the multi-state exam is 1440.

After the state bar pass rates fell to 43% last year, California law school deans asked the supreme court to soften up the exam. They asked the Law School Council to drop it as low as the national median of 1350.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye directed the bar to study the issue and report back. The bar undertook a study, and so far is recommending no change.

The Committee of Bar Examiners has already recommended leaving the score alone, pending more study. The test has already been shortened up from a three-day to a two-day exam.

The Pros and Cons

The State Bar had accelerated its review to allow for the possibility of applying an interim cut-score change to 1414 exclusively for the July 2017 exam. Exam results typically are released in November.

The survey showed that more than 90 percent of bar exam applicants want to lower the cut score, and half of them want it lower than 1414. One public comment said too many attorneys already "lack minimal competence," and another questioned the validity of the bar exam to test competence.

Bar exam committee members, who voted 13-1 against lowering the score, said they have more to study before they could recommend a lower cut score.

"I have yet to hear any data that suggests that we should change this cut score not only permanently but definitely not interim," committee member Lee Wallach said. "Once you go there, you're not going to go back."

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