CA Lawmakers Lobby To Lower Bar Exam Standards

Declining bar exam pass rates in CA

The Assembly Committee on Judiciary that recently held an informational hearing on declining rates for the CA bar exam focused on CA's cut score, the minimum score required by the Committee of Bar Examiners within the CA State Bar to pass the bar exam. In the words of the Committee, "The hearing explored the question of whether CA's high cut score causes more harm than good to the legal community and public in CA.

HIstory of the CA Bar Exam

According to the history of the CA bar exam, the state's current overall cut rate has remained at 1,440 points since 1986.The standard minimum competency score of 144 on the MBE portion of the bar exam is the second highest in the nation, exceeded only by Delaware. Testimony at the hearing indicated that thresholds originally set at their current levels may not be appropriate to maintain. As stated by the Committee, "It is difficult to understand why graduates of CA's ABA accreditated law schools would score significantly higher on the MBE portion of the bar exam than exam takers in other states, but pass the bar exam at a significantly lower rate than their lower-scoring counterparts elsewhere in the nation, and why this anomaly protects the public or the integrity of the legal profession in CA."

High standards for practicing attorneys in CA

The Committee affirmed its commitment to high standards for attorneys to practice law in CA. However, it advanced its belief that standards must be based on data and research correlating with public protection. As stated by the Committee, "From the testimony at the hearing, it was unclear that there is a rational basis, let alone a close evidence-based connection, between CA's high cut scores and protecting the public."

CA cut scores for passing too high

The State Bar Executive Director, Elizabeth Parker, told the Committee that "there's no good answer" why CA's cut score is so high. The Court itself indicated in a letter dated February 28, 2017 to the Committee, "The question whether CA's atypically high cut score is the cause of the lowest passage rate on July, 2016 CA bar exam is a "significant concern", the investigation of which is "critically important."