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Last week, the House of Delegates of the New York State Bar Association urged the Court of Appeals to hold off on increasing the passing grade for the bar examination. The State Bar indicated it is not necessarily opposed to increasing the passing score to 675 from 660. However, the organization expressed skepticism that increasing the standard would heighten competency. It also expressed concern that a higher passing score would disproportionately affect minorities. In short, it wants proof that increasing standards would have positive results, and that it would not foster negative ones. The controversy over the bar exam erupted in September, when the Board of Law Examiners released a report calling for an increase in standards. The report, which followed a three-year study, noted that only 14 states have lower standards, and cited a pressing need to heighten standards in New York. Immediately, the proposal sparked dissension; the deans of every law school in New York state opposed the plan and called for additional study. In response to the concerns of the State Bar, the Board of Law Examiners said in a Jan. 14 letter that “there is significant anecdotal evidence of incompetence in the profession.” It noted that the “expanding workload of the grievance committees and boards of professional discipline also suggests that lawyer competence may be on the decline.” Others, however, questioned the accuracy of those assertions, and further asked whether boosting the passing score would have any effect on attorney competency. After considerable debate, the House of Delegates voted by approximately a 2-to-1 margin to urge further study and consideration before the passing grade is increased.

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