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India Blue Thomas Walsh, a recipient of the 1999-2000 Hampden County, Mass., Bar Association Law School Scholarship, took the MPRE in August of 2000, passing with a scaled score of 83. But because of changes in scoring, he must take the test again. A Hampden County law school has begun looking at how many students have been affected by recent changes to the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE), after students complained about having to take the test over again in order to take the bar exam. According to Arthur Wolf, a professor and director of the institution of governmental and legislative affairs at Western New England College School of Law, the school is researching how many students may have fallen between the cracks since the state’s Board of Bar Examiners changed the MPRE passing grade from 75 to 85. Wolf said the school was trying to see how many, if any, students who received MPRE grades between 75 and 85 in the past year would have to retake the MPRE because of the changes. Earlier this year the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners changed requirements for admission to the bar by increasing the scaled passing score of the MPRE to 85 from 75, starting with the July 2001 bar examination. The board, for the July 2001 exam only, grandfathered in applicants who previously passed the MPRE with a score of 75 or more. In addition, effective with the February 2002 bar exam, the board is requiring students to first pass the MPRE before taking the bar exam. Many law professors — including Wolf — have always encouraged their students to take the MPRE soon after taking the required course on professional responsibility in law school. “They don’t always take [the MPRE] the year they take the bar exam,” Wolf said. “There are a fair number of students in our law school and other law schools who take the MPRE who are not in their final year of law school.” Massachusetts has joined other states, such as New York, in recently raising its MPRE standards. But Walsh said Massachusetts is the only state that now requires law students to pass the MPRE before taking the bar exam. The MPRE, administered by ACT Inc. on behalf of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, is used to measure an examinee’s knowledge and understanding of the laws governing the conduct of lawyers. “It makes no sense to wait,” said Edward Barshak, director of the Mass. Board of Bar Examiners and an attorney with Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak & Cohen. “And it helps us to know in advance.” Barshak said there were a total of 430 people who failed the two bar exams in 2000 and the February 2001 exam, and who also failed to file MPRE results with the board. Thomas Walsh, a 25-year-old law student in his last year at the Massachusetts School of Law in Andover, had contacted legislators about possible problems with the MPRE after unsuccessfully trying to get the state’s bar examiners to excuse him from the newest MPRE requirements. He took the MPRE in August of 2000, passing with a scaled score of 83. However, because Walsh is not taking the bar exam until after he graduates in December, and because of the changes in the scoring, he must take the MPRE again. Walsh said he was unaware of the pending changes to the MPRE when he took the test, stating he was reassured by the board, via telephone and written correspondence, that the passing grade for the MPRE was 75. On Walsh’s report of scores, mailed to him by the National Conference of Bar Examiners last fall, it reaffirms the state’s minimum passing score of 75. Walsh said he was never notified of the changes to the MPRE and only learned of them while looking on a school bulletin board, which contained a notification about the MPRE, months after taking the test. “I think everyone agrees that ethical standards should be raised for the legal profession,” Walsh said. “Requiring someone to take and pay twice for an examination they already passed is quite burdensome, especially if you are working and paying your own way through law school.” Currently it costs around $48 to take the MPRE, and $10 for each state a student wants to receive a copy of their scores. Barshak said the board made the decision to raise the MPRE standards in April of last year, and grandfathered students who received a 75 on the test “as far [back] as they could.” “We wanted to give people a chance to take the MPRE and pass it,” Barshak said. “We didn’t want to impose on them an ex post facto one year later.” He seemed unmoved, however, by Walsh’s complaints, commenting that Walsh and “a lot of other people” would have to take the MPRE over. “If we had extended the ‘grandfathering’ provision beyond the July 2001 examination, we would have created a substantial class of applicants with lower standards than the others,” Barshak said in a letter to a state representative. “Such a potential double standard cannot be justified.” Barshak said the board sent out notices to all of the law schools in the state, notifying them of the MPRE changes, but not to law students themselves. “How can we?” Barshak said of sending out notices individually to students. “We don’t know who is going to take the bar exam when.” He added that the board also made up a brochure about the new MPRE changes, but was not certain of its distribution list. On March 1, 2001, the board updated its Web site to include the MPRE changes. Walsh said the current registration book for the MPRE still list the passing score in Massachusetts as 75. As of Aug. 30, the National Conference of Bar Examiners Web site also listed the passing MPRE score in Massachusetts at 75. “Throughout law school professors tell us about the necessity of giving opposing parties proper notice,” Walsh said. “I find it ironic that the [bar examiners] and the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, which are comprised of attorneys, did not ensure that proper notice was sent to law students across the Commonwealth affected by this policy.” Walsh said, under state statute 221 � 36, the Board of Bar Examiners must have approval from the SJC in making rules with reference to exams for admission to the bar. SJC spokeswoman Joan Kenney said the MPRE change was made by the Board of Bar Examiners, declining further comment. Walsh said he might take the issue to federal court to resolve the matter. Attorney and state representative Gale Candaras, D-13 Hampden, said although WNEC was one of the first schools to begin looking at its numbers for the MPRE and the bar exam, it would not be the last. “We will be in touch with all of the law schools in the state,” Candaras said about comparing numbers among law schools. “There may be other people in a situation such as Mr. Walsh. If that is the case, we will ask Mr. Barshak for reconsideration.”

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