A major new study by the State Bar of California seeks to determine the skills and competencies the state’s lawyers need to do their jobs and how those traits can be tested on the bar exam.
The results of the study, dubbed the California Attorney Job Analysis Study, will inform further research and considerations of the state’s closely watched bar exam. The exam has been under intense scrutiny in recent years as pass rates plummeted to an all-time low of 27.3 percent in February, fueling criticism that the state’s notoriously high cut score should be lowered. (California has the second-highest cut score in the country at 144. Only Delaware has a higher cut score, at 145.)
The job analysis is funded through a $515,000 grant from AccessLex Institute, a nonprofit organization that advocates for access to legal education and law school affordability. The latest study will offer a foundation to look at not only the exam’s cut score but also the content and format of the all-important licensing exam.
“AccessLex Institute strongly believes in the power and application of quality data to best ensure that legal education and admissions to the bar evolve to meet the needs of aspiring lawyers and the world in which they will practice,” said President Christopher Chapman. “We applaud the State Bar of California for showing the courage to comprehensively evaluate its current licensing exam and follow the data to its logical end, whatever that may be.”
The California Bar last year commissioned a separate study of the bar exam with an eye to the cut score. That July 2017 report concluded that 144 is an appropriate cut score to ensure new lawyer competency, but that it could be lowered to 141 without compromising the consumer protection function of the exam. The state’s law school deans joined the call to lower the cut score, but the California Supreme Court—which has the final say—in October opted against changing the cut score.
“Last year, the State Bar conducted a groundbreaking series of studies into the California Bar Exam, and the upcoming Job Analysis Study is a critical next step,” said state bar executive director Leah Wilson. “Together this body of research will help us better determine whether adjustments may be needed on the content or other aspects of the California Bar Exam.”
The state bar plans to use the results of the job analysis to look at how what is tested on the bar exam correlates to the current and changing legal practices, and help develop a definition of minimum attorney competency. It will also help the bar determine what subjects should be tested on the exam. The results of the study are expected in the summer of 2019.