The percentage of prospective lawyers who passed California’s July bar exam crept upward to 49.6 percent, ending a three-year skid in scores marked last year by the lowest pass rate—43 percent—in three decades.
The exam results, released by the state bar Friday evening, showed gains among first-time test-takers. The success rate for graduates of American Bar Association-approved law schools in California rose from 62 percent in July 2016 to 70 percent this year. The numbers also were up for rookie test-takers from schools accredited only by California, 21 percent to 33 percent.
Leah Wilson, executive director of the state bar, said she was pleased by the results. “We look forward to studying the factors that may have resulted in the increase,” Wilson said in a prepared statement.
The July exam was the first administered by California over two days instead of the traditional three. The number of test-takers, perhaps enticed by the exam’s shorter format, increased from 7,737 to 8,545.
Pass rates have risen across the country this year, with the average score on the Multistate Bar Examination increasing by about 1.4 points over last July to 141.7, according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners. The average national score would not be high enough, however, to pass California’s bar exam, which requires a 144—the second-highest in the nation behind Delaware.
The pass rates in large states still far outpace California’s. Nearly 70 percent of those who sat for New York’s summer exam passed. The pass rate in Pennsylvania climbed to 73.6 percent this year after hitting a record low in 2016.
Those disparities—and the fact that a majority of test-takers still failed California’s exam—are likely to keep the debate over the Golden State’s high score simmering. Despite pleas from law school deans, students and some lawyers, the California Supreme Court in October declined to lower the score.
If they meet other requirements, including the completion of a moral character determination, the 4,236 people who passed California’s July bar exam will be admitted to the bar at the end of the year.
A pass list from the exam will be published on the state bar’s website Sunday at 6 a.m.
California bar exam rate summaries are posted below: