After months of studying the heated issue, California’s state bar told state Supreme Court justices this week that they could justifiably lower the bar exam pass score. Or, just as justifiably, they could leave it where it is, the bar said.
As the Supreme Court mulls what to do, many California-licensed lawyers have already made clear that they want the 144 pass score, also known as a cut score, to stay right where it is. More than 34,000 attorneys responded to a recent bar survey about the issue. Nearly 80 percent of those respondents said the bar shouldn’t lower the cut score despite pressure from law school deans, students and lawmakers to do just that.
Here are some excerpts—in categories we created—of what some of those California lawyers told bar officials in the public comments:
Wait a second … Maybe the score is too high.
Jody Brewster, Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom: “As a partner in a very large law firm, I have witnessed highly competent practicing attorneys licensed in other jurisdictions prepare for and fail the CA bar exam. I have also been privy to the scores some of these applicants received, and it was clear that had they taken the bar exam in almost any other state in the country they would have passed. The result is that it is extremely difficult to relocate attorneys to CA based on the needs of the firm and our clients, even though the attorney has already demonstrated much more than the minimal competency required to practice law.”
Marti Potiriades, Office of Sacramento County Counsel: “Real people, young people, have put their lives on hold, have incurred thousands of dollars in student loans, have incurred thousands in bar prep classes, lost time with their families, have job applications in suspense, due to the extreme length of law school itself, compounded by sadistic standards, compounded by intolerable waiting time for results. As a practicing attorney with a child now waiting for bar results, I support the view of the 20 CA law school deans who endorse immediate, meaningful changes.”
Think about the jobs—or lack thereof—out there.
Joseph Dzida, Callanan, Rogers & Dzida: “The focus on the cut score seems to me to miss the point—the focus should be on whether those passing are getting quality jobs, or jobs at all, in the legal profession or not. If you lower the cut score, more people will pass the bar but will they get jobs? Will they get quality jobs? To me, if there are no good jobs for them, it is inhumane to encourage people to go through law school, pay the high tuition, take the bar, only to not be able to get good jobs if they pass. The inhumanity of this increases if the cut score is lowered to allow more to pass but still not get work, or get quality work.”
Julie Hamill, Hamill Law: “Passing the bar does not create more jobs. You will just have a bigger pool of barred attorneys with weaker academic credentials and still no job prospects, and the real problem of insurmountable student loan debt will continue on.”
William Schultz, Schultz Law Firm: “California already has too many lawyers. Let’s not add lesser-qualified people to this mix.”
I passed the exam with a high cut score. Why shouldn’t younger generations do the same?
Thomas Dunnion, Dunnion Law: “The high quality of lawyers must be maintained in California. Lowering the bar will drastically affect our profession and those we serve.”
Patricia Curtin, Wendel Rosen Black & Dean: “I was surprised to hear the committee is considering to reduce the bar passage scores for July 2017. What a slap in the face for those who took the bar before and will take the bar after that time and for those who passed the bar in July 2017 with a score of 1440. If this is done, I would be reluctant to hire an attorney who “passed” the bar in July 2017.”
John Huckabay, Law Office of John Huckabay: “I worked full time, studied nights and weekends and continued to do that up to about a week before the bar exam in July 1980. I passed the first time and the fact that the California exam was known to be the most difficult in the country is a mark of pride for me.”
The problem isn’t the test—it’s the law schools.
Vera Pardee, Center for Biological Diversity: “Train your eye on our law schools. Are they admitting less-qualified applicants? Are they reducing the quality or quantity of their instruction? Are law school financial motives to blame? Do we have too many law schools, and/or have the accreditation criteria been lowered?”
Rudolph Loewenstein, Law Office of Rudolph Loewenstein: “Too many law schools producing too many unqualified candidates who shouldn’t have passed law school in the first place who were passed through for economic reasons is not a reason to admit less-qualified candidates.”
Julie Jung, JV Law Group: “I believe the root of the problem is the law schools and the accreditation process. CA state accredited law schools are a joke. The standard for the accreditation process for law schools, in general, in California seems too easy and the standard to obtain/maintain accreditation is too low. So many law schools in CA accept students into their law degree program to make a profit, yet they have no accountability and responsibility when the bar passage is low.”
California should have one of the toughest cut scores.
Ernest Price, Ropers Majeski Kohn Bentley: “If by analogy the question was whether we should accept lower test scores for doctors, engineers or airline pilots, how many of us would be willing to be operated on, go into a skyscraper or be flown in jet aircraft by an individual who ‘got there’ because the standards were lowered? I seriously doubt many of us would. The same rationale should apply to attorneys.”
Eric Ledger, Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board: “The legal field has just as significant an impact upon people’s lives as the medical field. I could only imagine what the headlines would read if the California Medical Board started licensing students who obtained online degrees from unaccredited universities, or if the Medical Board lowered their standards for granting a medical license. The state bar should treat the practice of law no differently.”
Mary Louise Serafine: “As a member of the bar in three other jurisdictions, I can testify that lawyers elsewhere respect California lawyers because of the well-known high standards of our bar exam.”