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Maybe there’s something in the air. Sharp on the heels of last year’s 12-year-low pass rate on California’s July bar examination, February test-takers tied a 1998 rate that was the lowest since 1986, the State Bar reported Tuesday. Only 1,790 of the 4,476 February applicants passed the exam, for a 40 percent pass rate. The result was a drop from last year, when 1,785 of 4,343 February test-takers passed for a 41.1 percent rate. The last three years’ pass rates are a severe plunge from February 1997, when a rate of 48.8 percent was set, and are far off the winter exam high mark of 50.9 percent of 1992. They’re also a far cry from the 51.2 percent pass rate for last July’s bar exam, and the peak rate of 63.2 percent set for the summer exam in 1994. Jerome Braun, the California State Bar’s senior executive for admissions and certification, said Tuesday that the most-recent February pass rate doesn’t concern him, because it’s within the range — 40 to 50 percent — that’s considered acceptable. “It’s at the lower end of the range, but it’s at the range I expect,” he said. “We generally expect to see the February exam to have a lower pass rate than the July exam, because it has a greater percentage of repeaters.” Braun also tried to fend off any potential argument that the bar exam is harder now than it was 10 years ago by pointing out that grades are scaled to take out “the differences in the difficulty factor.” “If it’s not the examination [that's different], it’s got to be the individual preparation, abilities and training that people bring to the examination room,” he said. If that’s so, then applicants in the last year haven’t been very well prepared. The 51.2 percent pass rate for last July’s bar exam was the worst in a dozen years. Only 3,951 of the 7,720 applicants for that exam passed. The summer exam’s pass rate is generally higher than the winter’s because it has fewer people repeating the exam after failing on previous attempts. The State Bar also reported Tuesday that a slightly higher percentage of out-of-state lawyers passed the attorneys’ examination, open to any barrister who has practiced law in another jurisdiction for at least four years. Of the 316 lawyers taking the February exam, 169 passed, for a 53.5 percent rate. Last year, 187 of 351 applicants passed, for a 53.1 percent rate. Both pass rates, however, are far below the peak of 78.2 percent set for the February 1992 test. Other statistics reported by the California State Bar Tuesday included: � 32 percent of the February applicants were taking the exam for the first time, and of those 1,433 people, 51.3 percent, passed. � 50.1 percent of the successful first-timers attended California law schools approved by the American Bar Association; 30.3 percent attended schools approved by the State Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners, but not by the ABA; and 19.1 percent studied at unaccredited law schools. � 68 percent of the applicants were repeaters, and of those 3,043 people, 34.7 percent, passed. � Among successful repeaters, 41.3 percent attended ABA-approved schools, 25.5 percent studied at State Bar-approved schools and 16.4 percent were from unaccredited law schools. State Bar offices were temporarily in a turmoil Tuesday when a computer glitch resulted in the accidental posting of last year’s pass list, rather than this year’s, on the Bar’s Web site. Anyone calling up the entire list would either have found his or her name missing or have come up with last year’s results if he or she were repeating the test. Oddly enough, though, this year’s results were obtainable if searches were conducted by individual names. The glitch was cleared up quickly. The 1,790 applicants who passed the February exam will be sworn in if they pass a legal ethics exam and the Bar’s moral character review. As of April 1, according to the State Bar, California had 169,373 lawyers, 134,383 of them actively practicing law. On Tuesday, Braun advised the 2,686 applicants who failed the February exam not to give up and to try, try again. “The chances are if they stay at it, they’ll pass the examination,” he said. “They should not be unduly discouraged by not passing it. The bar exam is not a predictor as to how well they will do in practice.”

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