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Ready for a shorter, meatier bar exam, Californians? Well, one might be on the way, and it’s not clear yet to some law school deans whether that’s a good or bad thing. California State Bar executives met with law school deans from around the state Friday and Saturday in San Francisco to discuss proposals that could shorten the three-day California exam by a full day, while possibly adding five new areas of law to be tested. There’s even a chance the three-hour performance test segment — which measures applicants’ abilities to apply their legal knowledge to realistic situations — could be eliminated or shortened by half. Jerome Braun, the State Bar’s senior executive for admissions, said last week that the proposed changes are aimed at cutting costs and making the exam less onerous on test takers. “If we can maintain the quality and at the same time make the examination more friendly to the taker and less expensive to administer, it would be appropriate,” he said. “I want to see an examination that is as non-intrusive on people’s time as possible and still lets us fulfill our public protection and policy considerations.” Currently, the bar exam, given over three days, consists of six, one-hour essay questions; a pair of three-hour performance tests; and a 200-item multiple-choice examination. The California State Bar has suggested a two-day exam, with various formulas that would reconfigure each segment of the test. It also has proposed either abolishing the California Performance Test — not considered a high likelihood — or purchasing the National Conference of Bar Examiners’ Multistate Performance Test, which is 90 minutes shorter than California’s. Both tests require applicants to use supplied materials to complete everyday work problems, such as drafting a closing argument or a court motion. But continuing the California test is estimated to cost $110,000 a year less than purchasing the national version. In addition, the Bar suggests adding, or expanding, essay questions to touch on the areas of business associations, civil procedure, contracts and commercial law, evidence and family law. Speaking before the meeting, Braun said he wasn’t sure how the ideas will play with the visiting deans — members of the State Bar’s advisory Law School Council — but James Otto, a Torrance-based member of the State Bar Board of Governors, anticipated some differences of opinion over the addition of testing matter. “I expect that the [American Bar Association] schools would be somewhat opposed to that,” he said Wednesday, “and the California-approved schools would be neutral or in favor of it.” Otto, the board’s representative to the Law School Council, is mostly right. When contacted last week, deans’ responses ranged from unbridled enthusiasm to subtle skepticism, breaking somewhat between ABA-approved and state-accredited schools. Karen Kadushin, dean of the State Bar-accredited Monterey College of Law, was ecstatic about the new test subjects, because they are aimed at students preparing for careers at small law firms or as sole practitioners. The Bar’s memorandum on the proposal noted that a majority of the state’s law school graduates fall into those categories. “It’s a recognition of the membership,” Kadushin said Tuesday. “Many more people who graduate from our school are going to be going into small or sole practices, so a broader understanding of the issues raised by the client is more important for them. “When you’re in a big firm and first starting out,” she added, “someone’s vetted that for you.” Jonathan Varat, dean of UCLA School of Law, felt otherwise, noting that most students on his ABA-approved campus would be going to work at large law firms and really don’t need testing on some of the areas that might be added. “I’d be reasonably confident that — from the perspective of students graduating from our law school — these additions would be unwelcome news,” he said Wednesday. “It’s not as though there aren’t already a number of subjects on the California bar exam.” In addition, Varat added, tacking on more questions while shortening the overall exam by a third seems odd. “It feels a bit like cruel and unusual punishment to the test takers,” he said. “It makes it even more rigorous and you have to display what you know in a much more compressed time period.” Neither John Dwyer, dean of Boalt Hall School of Law, nor Kathleen Sullivan, dean at Stanford Law School, could be reached for comment. But Peter Keane, dean of the ABA-approved Golden Gate University School of Law, liked the proposal for expanded test subjects. “Testing in those type of core offerings — like family law and civil procedure — is long overdue,” Keane, who is not on the Bar’s Law School Council, said Wednesday. “The idea that the Bar is now recognizing that the vast number of people admitted are going to be solo practitioners or in small firms and rendering bread-and-butter type services to the public is good.” Keane also expressed support for retaining the performance test, calling it “an actual gauge of someone’s ability to deal with legal problems.” But he didn’t care whether the state or national test is administered. That issue has caused some debate within the California State Bar. According to a memo by Braun, Armando Menocal, a former chairman of the Bar’s committee of bar examiners, feels that the three-hour state test “allows more indepth, subtle and complex evaluations,” while Jean Gaskill, chairwoman of the Bar’s Board of Reappraisers, believes that the 90-minute national test is “much more tightly constructed and clearer.” Braun notes that some members of the Bar have argued in the past that the performance test should be eliminated altogether, claiming it doesn’t contribute much and can be biased against the physically disabled or favor someone who “fortuitously” took a class in the test’s subject matter. He doesn’t anticipate the test’s demise, though, and also vowed that no change would impinge on the quality of the overall bar exam. “If that comes into question,” he said, “we’ll stop right there.”

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