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Cutting the California bar exam from three days to two might be greeted with glee by those who haven’t taken the test yet, but State Bar governors aren’t so sure it’s a good idea. Several of the governors expressed serious doubts about the idea during a Board of Governors meeting on Friday, telling proponents that they fear fewer hours could hurt the quality of a bar exam commonly touted as the toughest in the nation. “It sounds like we’re dumbing the exam down,” Long Beach Governor Matthew Cavanaugh said. “This might be a case where it might not be broke and doesn’t need fixing.” Robert Persons, a Bar governor from Chico, agreed in some ways, noting that even if the shorter test doesn’t affect the quality of the exam, it still might be perceived that way by the general public. “I can see the headlines,” the Persons & Miller partner said. ” ‘Bar dumbs down bar exam.’ “ Currently, the three-day exam consists of six, one-hour essay questions, a pair of three-hour performance tests and a 200-question multiple-choice examination. Under the proposal being pushed by the Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners, a new two-day test would consist of six, 40-minute essay questions and two, 90-minute performance tests. The multiple-choice exam would stay the same. Committee members assured Bar governors Friday that limiting the exam to two days — putting California in line with most other states — wouldn’t make the test easier. “The way the test is graded, we control the difficulty of the questions asked,” said Dr. Steve Klein, the committee’s longtime numbers cruncher. “And California is one of the most difficult states in the country to pass. That’s not going to change.” Even so, several governors remained unconvinced. “It’s hard for me to fathom that taking a three-hour exam down to 90 minutes wouldn’t be easier,” said James Sherwood, the Board of Governors’ representative from the California Young Lawyers Association. “It cuts the exam in half,” Governor Patrick Dixon, a Los Angeles deputy district attorney, agreed. Committee member Edward Stark told governors that a two-day test would help cut administrative costs by $400,000 a year, reduce hotel costs for staff members, lessen their workload and lower the tension level for test-takers. “It’s a grueling exam,” he said. “It’s almost cruel and inhuman treatment.” Even that point was contradicted, with State Bar President Karen Nobumoto scoffing at the idea that less time for answering essay questions would be comforting. “To me, the idea of a 40-minute question would freak me out,” Nobumoto, also a deputy district attorney in L.A., said. “You think you’re lowering the stress? I beg to differ.” Klein noted one slight problem. Reducing the time for essay questions could hurt female applicants, he said, because they tend to perform better on those questions than men, who perform better on multiple-choice exams. But, Klein said, the percentage of women harmed by the change would be miniscule. Some Bar governors also expressed worries that a shorter exam could raise the number of incompetent lawyers getting admitted to the Bar. But committee member Samuel Jackson told them that testing isn’t the cause of later discipline problems. The problem, he added, is “folks who didn’t learn what they should be doing when they grew up.” Los Angeles Bar Governor John Van De Kamp brought a laugh by suggesting that the objections might just be a visceral reaction. “By God, I took three hours,” he said, tongue-in-cheek, “so should they.” After the meeting, Jerome Braun, the State Bar’s senior executive for admissions, said changes in the exam were considered after noting that most states are doing two-day exams. Cutting costs and reducing exam participants’ stress, he said, would be side benefits. “But,” he said, noting the governors’ concerns, “I take with a great deal of seriousness that some people feel the machine ain’t broke.”

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