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It might be an increase of only 1.6 percent over last year, but California Bar officials and others were quite pleased with Monday’s report of a 56.9 percent pass rate for the July bar examination. “I’m happy that it’s better than it has been and I hope that’s a trend that’s developing,” said Jerome Braun, the Bar’s San Francisco-based senior executive for admissions. Even more promising in some ways than the increase over the July 2000 overall 55.3 percent pass rate, though, was the fact that the pass rate for first-time test takers leaped nearly 6 percent — from 64.3 percent last year to 70 percent this summer. “It speaks volumes for the legal education that is being given to folks here in California,” Braun said. “And I think it probably represents a great future for those folks and more qualified lawyers for the people of California.” Though the overall results released Monday mean that 3,280 of the 7,618 people who took the summer test flunked, it’s still steady progress over the 51.2 percent pass rate for the summer of 1999. That rate was the lowest in 12 years and it worried Bar officials who, though putting a good spin on the figure, didn’t want to see the pass rate drop below 50 percent. Over the weekend, 4,338 test takers got good news, and immediately celebrated. “People have been calling in and I’ve been running into people in the hallway,” said Peter Keane, dean of San Francisco’s Golden Gate University School of Law. “[There] appears to be a lot more joy and happiness than there was last year.” According to the state Bar, first-timers accounted for 5,302 of the applicants, 69.6 percent of the total test takers. Of those, the pass rate was 78.6 percent for applicants who attended California law schools approved by the American Bar Association, 70.3 percent for those from ABA schools outside the state, 33.3 percent for students from schools accredited by the State Bar’s Committee of Bar Examiners but not approved by the ABA and 14.3 percent from unaccredited law schools. Of the 2,316 people repeating the test, 27 percent passed. The pass rate was 35.2 percent for repeat applicants from ABA-approved law schools in California, 33.1 percent for those from ABA schools outside California, 17.5 percent for State Bar-accredited schools and 10.5 percent for students from unaccredited schools. On the negative side, the state Bar reported Monday that only 52.8 percent of the 362 lawyers who took the attorney’s exam passed, compared to 54.7 percent the summer before. The attorney test is open to lawyers who have practiced at least four years in a jurisdiction outside California. Successful applicants in all categories can take the attorney’s oath during ceremonies around the state in December if they are not in arrears for family or child support payments, are found to have good moral character, and pass a professional responsibility exam. Braun, of the State Bar, said there’s no verifiable reason why the summer exam pass rates have improved the last two years after hitting such a low in 1999. “Each group is unique and has its own particular groupings of skills and abilities and no two groups will produce exactly the same on any given examination,” he said. “But the examination is scaled so that the reported score represents the same degree of achievement this year as it did last year or the year before or as it will next year.” Keane, a former member of the State Bar Board of Governors, echoed Braun’s comments. “Over the years, when talking about bar passage rates, they’ve had about as much logic to me as when Michael Jackson is going to decide to go on tour,” he said. “I’ve never been able to figure out why they’re up or down and neither has the Bar.” The three-day bar exam consists of a multiple choice examination, six essay questions and two performance tests designed to assess an applicant’s ability to apply general legal knowledge to practical tasks. It is given in July and February. See results for California and other states

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