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Dozens of newly minted lawyers around the country may soon find out they are not lawyers after all. The National Conference of Bar Examiners, which produces the 200-question multistate portion of the bar exam taken in almost every state, last week warned bar officials in 48 states that the scores of all 20,204 law students who took the test in February are being recalculated because of a clerical mistake. “Students are scared about taking the bar exam anyway, so it’s terrible to be thrown into doubt,” said Alan Michaels, associate dean at Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. “The scoring error was detected and every jurisdiction is affected,” said Erica Moeser, president of the national conference. “The error is being corrected” as quickly as possible and states are being notified, she said. The problem was discovered at the beginning of May. No credit was given for a correct answer on one multiple-choice question because of what Moeser called a “keying error” during the scoring process. As a result, people who passed the bar exam by a narrow margin may actually have failed. On the other hand, Moeser said, some people who appeared to have failed may actually have passed. If Ohio is any sign, few would-be lawyers will be prevented from taking the oath. A total of 551 students took the bar exam in February and 294 passed. Last week, the Ohio Supreme Court notified 28 applicants that their status may change due to the error. By last Thursday, it was determined that 27 of those 28 passed, according to information released by Ohio Supreme Court Clerk Marcia Mengel. The scores on the multistate tests, which have been administered since 1972, are being recalculated by American College Testing Inc., which made the original error. American College Testing Inc. referred questions to the national conference. The tests are produced by the national conference and administered in 48 states. Most states also include essay portions on their bar exams; those are scored by the states themselves. “To my knowledge this has never happened before,” Mengel said of the error. “If we discover some people who were told they passed actually failed, they can retake the bar exam in July at no extra cost.” In Florida, Eleanor Hunter, head of the state’s Board of Bar Examiners, had just heard of the scoring error — several days after law school graduates were sworn in as lawyers. “This is unprecedented,” Hunter said, adding that the Florida Supreme Court will have to make a policy decision on how to deal with the problem. HARD TO REVERSE At the University of Michigan Law School, Evan Caminker, associate dean of academic affairs, said “it would be difficult for the bar to go backward” in the case of people who had taken the oath but did not actually pass the bar. He said about 120 Michigan graduates had taken the bar exam in February, but the vast majority around the country take the exam each June or July. Moeser said that “it’s comforting to know there was no failure of content — that the information in the test wasn’t wrong. … Still, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.” According to Moeser, some states are just gathering or releasing their test scores, while others did so weeks ago. “It’s up to the states to tell people if they failed or passed and whether or not to take the oath,” she said. Moeser is asking state bar boards to let her know how many scores are changed by the correction, how many applicants might have been denied the oath and how the problem was handled.

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